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Fearless and brilliant, Rob Burrow leaves a special legacy far beyond his sport

News of Rob Burrows' death has been widely shocked, but it is within the close-knit rugby league community where his loss will be most painful.

Because he was not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but also one of the most respected and popular.

From his debut with the Leeds Rhinos in 2001 until his retirement in October 2017, Burrow was always able to outwit his opponents with his brilliant movement and reaction speed, despite his small stature of 1.65 meters.

In the legendary Leeds side that won eight Super League Grand Finals between 2004 and 2017, Burrow was the star in every one of them.

Along with his good friend Kevin Sinfield and academy colleague Danny McGuire, Burrow became a symbol of the “Golden Generation”, affectionately known as the great Rhinos team that swept all others off the pitch.

Burrow enjoyed legendary status in Leeds, but his influence and success also made him a popular figure in football as a whole.

He was a warm, friendly family man and popular with everyone he met. Whether teammates, coaches, opposing players and fans or journalists, no one had a bad word to say about him.

He grew up in Castleford, a former mining town in West Yorkshire, and came through the prestigious football academy at Headingley before making his first-team debut in 2001.

Leeds had not been crowned champions since 1972 until Burrow helped them defeat arch-rivals Bradford Bulls in the 2004 Grand Final at Old Trafford.

It was a team with a strong local heart and the Golden Generation, inspired by Burrow's masterful creativity, built a dynasty for Leeds.

They won three consecutive Grand Finals at Old Trafford between 2007 and 2009 with a team so exciting that Wayne Rooney, then at Manchester United, became a Rhinos fan.

Burrow's impact as a halfback or hooker, sometimes as a substitute, was difficult to stop due to his small size, agility and skill.

LEEDS, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 2: Rob Burrow of Leeds Rhinos kicks the ball during the Utility Super League first semi-final match between Leeds Rhinos and St. Helens at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on October 2, 2015 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Rob Burrow in action for Leeds Rhinos (Photo: Getty)

Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the 2011 Super League Grand Final, when Burrow scored a stunning try to help Leeds defeat St. Helens.

Just before half-time and with the game still up in the air, Burrow performed a breathtaking magic trick.

He evaded the Saints' back line, ducking through it and embarrassing several opponents on the famous Old Trafford pitch before whizzing past Paul Wellens, one of the game's best full-backs, to score.

In total, he played 492 games for the club, putting him in fifth place on the club's all-time list.

Burrow scored 196 tries for a total of 1,103 points. He played 15 international matches for England and a further five Tests for Great Britain, including a Man of the Series performance for the national team in 2007.

He won the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 2014 and 2015, as well as three World Club Challenges and three League Leaders' Shields.

Fittingly, his farewell appearance came in Leeds' last Grand Final win in 2017 against his hometown club Castleford, where he and McGuire meshed beautifully and dominated the game.

Just over two years later, in December 2019, Burrow was cruelly diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

But Sinfield was never far from his side.

In fact, the band of brothers who played together at Headingley formed a huge support network and regularly visited Burrow at his family home in Pontefract.

Many former teammates gathered around to support him, his wife and childhood sweetheart Lindsey, his daughters Macy and Maya, and his son Jackson.

No one has done more than Sinfield, whose remarkable charity work with Burrow has raised almost £20 million across the UK and Ireland.

When diagnosed in December 2019, Burrow was given two years to live, but much like his playing career, he showed remarkable determination to fight the incurable disease to the end.

His loss will be deeply mourned throughout rugby league, but his achievements in the game will ensure his legacy lives on forever.