Rob Burrow: The rugby legend dies aged 41 after diagnose of motor neurone disease

Rugby legend Rob Burrow passed away on June 2 at the age of 41. The rugby star suffered from motor neurone disease. Let’s look back on his career and that life-changing diagnosis.

rob Burrow died rugby legend motor neurone disease
© Matthew Ashton / Getty Images
rob Burrow died rugby legend motor neurone disease

Rob Burrow was best known for playing rugby for Leeds Rhinos for 17 years. Burrow also represented England and Great Britain internationally. In 2019, two years after retiring from rugby, Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND).

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Rob Burrow then dedicated his life to raising awareness and money for the condition alongside fellow Leeds rugby player, Kevin Sinfield. Thanks to their hard work, they managed to raise millions and even opened a medical centre in Rob’s name.

As the message of love and support for Rob’s family floods social media after his death was announced, let’s take a look at his impressive rugby career, as well as the hard work he did for charity.

A look at Rob Burrow’s impressive 17-year-long rugby career

Rob Burrow was born on September 26, 1982. He joined Leeds Rhinos in 2001 and was a part of the squad that won the Super League in 2004, as per Sky Sports. This victory was monumental for the Leeds Rugby Club as it ended their 32-year wait for a championship.

During his career, Burrow was named Player of the Match in 2007 and 2011, when the Rhinos once again won. As a result, in February of this year, it was announced that the Player of the Match award at this year’s Super League Grand Final will be renamed in Burrow’s honour, the only player to win the award twice, as per Sky Sports.

During his career, Rob Burrow made 492 appearances, ranking him 5th on the all-time list of career appearances. He managed to score 196 tries, earning him a total of 1,103 points.

Burrow also had the chance to play internationally, indeed, he earned 15 caps for England and played 5 Tests for Great Britain.

Rob Burrow raised awareness for MND

As mentioned above, in 2019, Rob Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND). As per Sky Sports, Burrow and fellow former Leeds rugby player, Kevin Sinfield raised nearly £20 million in fundraising across the UK and Ireland, which includes raising over £6 million for the Rob Burrow Centre for MND in Leeds.

Thanks to his dedication to charity, he and Sinfield were awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List for his services to motor neurone disease, in January 2024.

Shortly after receiving his diagnosis in 2019, Rob spoke with Sky News explaining that he is ‘feeling positive’ and he ‘doesn’t want pity’, adding he wants life to ‘go on as normal’.

A few weeks past the diagnosis, I'm a lot better, I'm feeling positive and just ready to take it on. I don't want pity. I don't want people feeling sorry for me, I just want to go on as normal.

As Rob Burrow’s condition worsened, he was eventually confined to a wheelchair and could no longer speak. MND is also the condition that Professor Stephen Hawking had.

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

According to Health direct, motor neurone disease (MND) is the name for a plethora of diseases, including various ones that affect the nerves, known as motor nerves or motor neurons.

If a person has MND, their nerves degenerate and eventually die, this causes the person's muscles to become weaker and weaker, eventually confining them to a wheelchair due to paralysis.

The MND group includes:

  • Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Progressive muscular atrophy (PMA)
  • Progressive bulbar palsy (PBP)
  • Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS)
  • Kennedy's disease, also known as spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA)

MND is a rare condition and those who are diagnosed with the disease are given a life expectancy of 58 years.

MND symptoms include weakness in your hands and grip, your speech may become slurred. Your legs also become weaker, which can cause you to trip over more often. Your shoulders become feeble as well, making it more difficult to lift things. Finally, it can cause cramps and muscle twitching, as per Health Direct.

As a person's MND progresses, they can have trouble talking, breathing and even swallowing.

Rob Burrow died aged 41

It was announced on June 2, 2024, that Rob Burrow had sadly passed away at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, surrounded by his family. The Leeds Rugby Club released a statement revealing that the star rugby player had died after becoming ill earlier in the week.

As per Sky Sports:

It is with deep sadness that the club can confirm that former player Rob Burrow CBE has passed away, aged 41. [...] He passed away peacefully at Pinderfields Hospital near his home surrounded by his loving family after becoming ill earlier this week.

Naturally, the tributes for Rob flooded social media. His fellow campaigner and colleague, Kevin Sinfield described June 2 as ‘the day that I hoped would never come’. Sinfield added that Burrow was the ‘toughest and bravest’ person he has ever known.

I would always say that you were pound for pound the toughest player I ever played alongside, however since your diagnosis you were the toughest and bravest man I have ever met.

Rob left behind his wife, Lindsey, and their three children, Macy, Maya and Jackson. The family also paid tribute to their ‘beloved son, husband, father, brother and friend’:

Rob has always been a true inspiration throughout his life whether that was on the rugby league field or during his battle with MND. He never allowed others to define what he could achieve and believed in his own ability to do more.

Prince William also paid tribute to Rob Burrow

Prince William shared tribute in honour of Rob Burrow on Instagram. The Prince of Wales was the one to award Rob with his CBE in January this year. On their joint social media account, the Prince and princess of Wales wrote:

A legend of Rugby League, Rob Burrow had a huge heart. He taught us, ‘in a world full of adversity, we must dare to dream.’ Catherine and I send our love to Lindsey, Jackson, Maya and Macy. W

As per BBC, Prince William had paid a surprise visit to Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield when he awarded them both with their CBEs. The Prince of Wales had met the duo at Headingley Stadium, which is the home of Leeds Rhinos, their former team.

Prince William had told both men that he was there to give them their CBEs ‘if that’s okay’, adding that he thought it was a good day as their family and friends were present, as reported by BBC.

I brought your CBEs up here to give to you today if that's okay. While you're in your home, in Leeds, surrounded by your family and friends - I thought today was a good day.

As Prince William handed the award to Rob Burrow, he said that his work was ‘inspirational’ and everyone was ‘proud’ of him.

The most amount of thank yous and congratulations for all the inspirational work you've done Rob, you've been amazing and everyone's so proud of you.

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Sources used:

Sky Sports: ‘Rob Burrow: Leeds Rhinos rugby league legend dies aged 41 after suffering from motor neurone disease’

Sky News: ‘Rob Burrow: Rugby league player who raised awareness after Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis, dies aged 41’

GB News: ‘Princess Kate and Prince William 'send their love' in emotional statement following rugby star's death’

BBC: ‘Prince William surprises Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield with CBEs’

Health Direct: 'Motor neurone disease (MND)'

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