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Rob Burrow: Ex-Leeds Rhinos teammate vows to ensure his legacy lives on

Jamie Jones-Buchanan says he is driven to make sure former team-mate Rob Burrow’s legacy will live on.

Burrow’s death at the age of 41 was confirmed by his only professional club, Leeds, on Sunday, following a lengthy and high-profile battle with motor neurone disease.

Burrow won eight Super League titles during his career with the Rhinos and was a great of the sport, but it was following his retirement in 2017 and his MND diagnosis two years later that he came to the attention of a wider audience.

Alongside close friend and former team-mate Kevin Sinfield, Burrow raised millions of pounds to fund a new care centre for MND patients in Leeds.

And Jones-Buchanan, who was a team-mate of Burrow’s throughout those glory days at Headingley, says making sure his friend’s memory lives on will forever drive him.

“When we reflect on our life, I first met him at the Royal Armouries, a place where exhibits from history are displayed and we ask questions about what those exhibits leave for us to learn the lessons… and the lessons that we’ve learned through Rob, the inspiration that he’s been to continue,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“I’m just looking at his plaque (at Headingley) and living out this journey from December 15, 2019 when I first heard about it, right up until June 2, 2024. Those two dates and what happened in between will never leave me, it charges me every single day and not just me, all of us who wear that (Leeds) badge.

“He transcended rugby league, everyone in the north of England and the whole of England, we (will) remember what he’s done and why he’s done it and make sure it’s a legacy he’s left, a life fulfilled.”

Jones-Buchanan said he visited Sinfield’s house on Sunday as a matter of coincidence and knew from seeing him that the worst had happened.

He added to the PA news agency: “I’d gone to pick something up, he’d found out about 45 minutes before. When I saw his face, I could tell.

“He was struggling, really struggling… He’s an emotional guy is Kev. The overwhelming thought for me was how important it was for me to spend those moments when I got back home with my wife and kids so I just turned my phone off

“If Rob had another 30 seconds left, I doubt he’d pick up his phone. He’d spend it with Maya, Macy, Jackson and Lindsay, and I thought that’s what I need to do.”

Born in Pontefract, Burrow progressed through Leeds’ academy despite his 5ft 5in frame to debut in 2001 and establish himself as a great of the sport.

Silverware would follow with a maiden Super League title in 2004 alongside national-team honours with England for the first time.

An illustrious career was fully under way and Burrow was a key figure for Leeds during a trophy-laden spell where they claimed World Club Challenge glory in 2005, 2008 and again in 2012 alongside two Challenge Cups.

The fearsome scrum-half announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2017 season in July of that year and enjoyed a fairytale finish after Leeds beat Castleford 24-6 in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Coaching was the next focus for Burrow after he started to work in the Leeds academy, but a diagnosis of MND followed.

Burrow made the brave decision to go public with the disease on December 19, 2019 and during the next four-and-a-half years would earn the adulation of the nation with his fundraising efforts for MND.

A month after Burrow revealed his diagnosis, he featured during the final five minutes of a joint-benefit match with Jones-Buchanan, which played out in front of almost 20,000 spectators at Headingley.

Burrow would soon meet with the late Doddie Weir, who also fundraised and raised awareness of MND before his death in 2022, and his journey to raise millions had already started.

An MBE was awarded to Burrow in the 2021 New Year Honours list for his services to rugby league and the MND community.

He would feature in an award-winning BBC documentary, ‘Rob Burrow – My Year with MND’, which provided a look behind the curtain of his battle and the impact on his wife Lindsey alongside his three children.

Later in 2021, Burrow and fellow MND sufferer Stephen Darby were part of a group which went to Downing Street to urge the Prime Minister to inject more cash into finding a cure. It was a bid that would eventually prove successful after the Government agreed to make £50million available for research.

Close friend Sinfield had picked up the fundraising baton from Burrow by this point and would help raise millions with numerous challenges, which included the remarkable feat of running seven marathons in seven days.

In May 2023, Sinfield carried Burrow over the finish line at the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon after pushing his great friend for the 26.2 miles.

Burrow’s MBE was promoted to a CBE in the 2024 New Year Honours.

The groundbreaking of the Rob Burrow Centre for MND at Seacroft Hospital will go ahead as planned on Monday at Burrow’s request.

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