Rob Burrow's tearful parents watch as work begins on hero's final wish - an MND centre to help others

3 June 2024, 12:24 | Updated: 3 June 2024, 13:45

His emotional parents have visited the new centre for MND in Leeds
His emotional parents have visited the new centre for MND in Leeds. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Flaminia Luck

The parents of Rob Burrow have attended a ground-breaking ceremony in Leeds as work starts on a new £6 million centre for Motor Neurone Disease - after the rugby star's death was announced yesterday.

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The former Leeds Rhinos player died after a five-year battle with motor neurone disease (MND) aged 41.

He raised millions to help build the new centre for MND patients alongside former team-mate Kevin Sinfield.

Burrow retired after a glittering career in 2017 and two years later it was revealed he had been diagnosed with the disease.

Floral tributes, as well as scarves and rugby shirts, have been left at the the statue of former player John Holmes, in memory of Rob Burrow at Headingley Stadium in Leeds.

Fans and loved ones have visited the stadium since the announcement to pay their respects.

Read more: 'He taught us we must dare to dream': Tributes paid to rugby legend Rob Burrow after death following MND diagnosis

Rob Burrow's family during a ground breaking ceremony at the new £6 million centre for Motor Neurone Disease in Leeds
Rob Burrow's family and clinical team during a ground breaking ceremony at the new £6 million centre for Motor Neurone Disease in Leeds. Picture: Alamy

'Massive hole'

Kevin Sinfield said his former teammate Rob Burrow's death will leave a "massive hole" and it was important he "continues to live forever".

Fighting back tears as he spoke to the BBC, he said: "I wish he could have seen the outpouring of love.

"I think we all lose special people but it's very, very rare you lose someone who's so special to so many different people.

"As you can see, it's pretty raw still.

"He'll leave a massive hole and I know there will be a lot of people out there who are heartbroken this morning at the news from yesterday.

"What's really important is Rob Burrow continues to live forever. I'm sure the MND community and everyone who's supported us previously will make sure that Rob's name is at the forefront of everything we do going forward."

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Rob Burrow's family, (left to right) sister Claire Burnett, father Geoff Burrow, mother Irene Burrow and sister Joanne Hartshorn
Rob Burrow's family, (left to right) sister Claire Burnett, father Geoff Burrow, mother Irene Burrow and sister Joanne Hartshorn. Picture: Alamy

Wife Lindsey said the father-of-three wished for ground to be broken today so work could start on the new £6.8million purpose-built care centre which he spearheaded fundraising efforts for.

This morning his friend Phil Daly said that despite the grief following his loss, "Rob wouldn't want us to waste a day" in the battle with MND.

The 41-year-old had helped raise money for Leeds Hospitals Charity, where he received care, in the years following his diagnosis.

Since the death was announced on Sunday evening, the appeal has received more than 1,000 donations.

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Kevin Sinfield, English rugby union coach and Rob Burrow's former Leeds Rhino teammate during the ceremony
Kevin Sinfield, English rugby union coach and Rob Burrow's former Leeds Rhino teammate during the ceremony. Picture: Alamy

Kevin Sinfield attended the ceremony, along with Burrow's parents Geoff and Irene Burrow, and his sisters Joanne Hartshorn and Claire Burnett on Monday.

Geoff Burrow wiped away a tear as a minute's silence was held in his son's memory, before being one of six people to put the first spades in the ground on the site.

The family said Burrow would have wanted them to be there as construction work started on the state-of-the-art purpose-built care centre.

Mrs Burrow told reporters: "I said this is what Rob would want and I think he'd be proud that we all pulled ourselves together and got the strength to come, and we're doing it for Lindsey and the kids.

"He'll be looking down on us and he'll be going 'thumbs up'. We're so proud to be here and it's amazing what you can achieve."

Mr Burrow said: "It's amazing what a little man can achieve. You can achieve big things.

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Members of the public view flowers, messages and other tributes left at Headingley Stadium in Leeds, following the death of Rob Burrow
Members of the public view flowers, messages and other tributes left at Headingley Stadium in Leeds, following the death of Rob Burrow. Picture: Alamy

"As Rob says, in a world full of adversity you must dare to dream. We're dreaming of when this opens."

Ms Hartshorn said the family had been overwhelmed by the tributes to her brother.

"Seeing the outpouring of love on the TV, at Headingley. In a weird way I've just done nothing but smile all morning.

"It's giving us the courage today because that's what Rob would have wanted. He wanted us to be here today. Last night we were wondering how on earth we were going to be able to do that, but the outpouring of love and everybody's support has been unbelievable."

Rob Burrow’s family look at the tributes at Headingley stadium

'World class'

Rugby league coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan said he first met Rob Burrow as a teenager, before either of them signed for Leeds Rhinos.

He told the PA news agency: "I was working on a sports exhibition (at the Royal Armouries) and he come in with a school. "I explained what they should be doing and he didn't take a blind bit of notice - which was just to bat some balls back, and he smashed them all over the place and I spent all afternoon picking them up.

"I thought this Rob Burrow's a little so-and-so, and that was the character that Rob was.

"Throughout his career he was the centre of the changing room, he was where the fun and a lot of the laughter came from.

"Unassuming lad with a superhero origin story brought a gift to the club, a gift that most people thought was a weakness because he was tiny, but he used that weakness to be a superhero, that was his strength.

"He was world-class, so quick, powerful, strong, elusive, brave, courageous on so many occasions on the rugby league field. And inspired so many people, they loved him."

Rob Burrow in action during the Super League game between Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos
Rob Burrow in action during the Super League game between Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos. Picture: Alamy

A statement on Leeds Rhinos' official website read: "It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our 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 (motor neurone disease).

"He never allowed others to define what he could achieve and believed in his own ability to do more.

"The outpouring of love and support that Rob and the whole Burrow family have received over the last four-and-a-half years meant so much to Rob. In particular, the rugby league family and MND community have rallied around Rob to inspire him, thank you for your support.

"For those who knew Rob throughout his life, his determination and spirit in the face of MND over the last four-and-a-half years came as no surprise.

"Rob never accepted that he couldn't do something. He just found his way of doing it better than anyone else.

He will continue to inspire us all every day.

In a world full of adversity. We must dare to dream."

The Prince of Wales Meets With Rob Burrow And Kevin Sinfield
The Prince of Wales Meets With Rob Burrow And Kevin Sinfield. Picture: Getty

In a personally signed message on X, the Prince 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".

Burrow was made an MBE in the 2021 New Year Honours list for his services to rugby league and the MND community and was promoted to a CBE in the 2024 New Year Honours.

The Prince of Wales Meets With Rob Burrow And Kevin Sinfield
The Prince of Wales Meets With Rob Burrow And Kevin Sinfield. Picture: Getty

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