Rob Burrow CBE with president.
Rob Burrow alongside Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on March 7, 2023. (Image credit: Number 10/ Flickr)

Tributes have poured in for the rugby league legend Rob Burrow, who has died at the age of 41 from motor neurone disease (MND).

The Prince and Princess of Wales and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among those posting online alongside his former club, Leeds Rhinos.

Diagnosed with MND five years ago, Burrow became a national hero to thousands of fellow sufferers through his dedicated efforts to raise awareness and funds to combat the terminal illness, which has no known cure.

Despite being given just two years to live after his 2019 diagnosis, Burrow became an inspiration to many.

Alongside his former teammate and good friend Kevin Sinfield, he helped raise more than £15 million ($19.1m) for MND charities. He also had the support of wife Lindsey and the couple’s three children, Macy, Maya, and Jackson.

Burrow retired from a remarkable 17-season career with the Leeds Rhinos in 2017.

During his time with Leeds, he won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cups trophies, and three World Club Challenges. He also represented England and Great Britain on the international stage.

Leeds Rhinos, where he spent his entire 16-year career, put out a statement announcing his death.

“It is with deep sadness that the club can confirm that former player Rob Burrow CBE has passed away, aged 41.”

“A hard working and dedicated player, his fearless performances made him one of the most respected players in the Rhinos ranks.”

They added that the love and support that Rob and the whole Burrow family have received over the last four and a half years had meant a great deal to him.

“In particular, the rugby league family and the MND community have rallied around Rob to inspire him,” the statement added. “Thank you for your support.”

Sinfield, who became nationally known for his fundraising work alongside Burrow, said in an Instagram post that, “Today was the day I hoped would never come.”

He added: “The world has lost a great man and a wonderful friend to so many. You fought so bravely until the end and became a beacon of hope and inspiration, not only for the MND community but for all those who saw and heard your story.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales also expressed their condolences, posting: “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.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid tribute on X, describing Burrow as “an inspiration to everyone who met him or who heard his incredible story.”

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham was among the first to pay tribute, stating: “What a player and what a person. It was an honour to know Rob and to support him. He will always be with us, and we will carry on the fight against MND in his memory. Love to all the Burrow family.”

Newcastle footballing legend Alan Shearer wrote: “Ah man. What a guy. What an inspiration. What a hero. A warrior. A Legend. Sleep easy Rob.”

Sky Sports highlighted how well-wishers gathered outside Headingley Stadium in Yorkshire, the home of his team Leeds Rhinos, on Sunday morning to pay their respects, laying flowers, scarves, and other tributes.

The video has received several comments, including “Your family can be so proud of you, heroes don’t always wear capes” and “Absolute legend on and off the pitch. Rest easy Rob, you have made such a difference.”

Jamie Peacock, a former player at Leeds Rhinos, posted on Instagram: “Small in physical stature but a peerless giant in terms of character, heart, spirit, resilience, courage, determination, humour, and bravery. An inspiration to us all. RIP mate. ❤️”

The Motor Neurone Disease Association said: “The MND Association is incredibly grateful to Rob and his family for helping to raise awareness of MND, and funds for the Association, by sharing the details of their journey and by inspiring so many people both within the MND community and the wider public.”

Rob Burrow’s legacy will endure, it is hoped, through a specialist centre dedicated to fighting motor neurone disease at Seacroft Hospital in Leeds. The Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease is intended to support people living with the condition and a campaign is underway to raise £6.8m.