Ex-Leeds scrum-half Rob Burrow dies aged 41 after motor neurone disease battle

Former England international Rob Burrow has died at the age of 41 after a lengthy battle with motor neurone disease.

Burrow spent his entire rugby league career with Leeds Rhinos and helped them win eight Super League titles.

He retired in 2017 but two years later it was revealed Burrow had been diagnosed with MND and, after he raised millions to help build a new care centre for MND patients alongside former team-mate Kevin Sinfield, his death was confirmed by his former club on Sunday evening.

A statement from Leeds read: “It is with deep sadness that the club can confirm that former player Rob Burrow CBE has passed away, aged 41.

“Rob inspired the entire country with his brave battle against Motor Neurone Disease (MND) since his diagnosis in December 2019.

“He passed away peacefully at Pinderfield’s Hospital near his home surrounded by his loving family after becoming ill earlier this week.

“Along with his friend and former team-mate Kevin Sinfield, Burrow has inspired nearly £20 million in fundraising across the UK and Ireland. This has included raising over £6 million to build the Rob Burrow Centre for MND in Leeds as a lasting legacy for those who follow him in their own personal battles with the disease.

“On behalf of the Burrow family, we would like to thank the staff at Pindersfield Hospital for their compassion and caring for Rob in his final days.

“Fittingly, as a tribute to the incredible work done by Rob, the groundbreaking of the new Rob Burrow Centre for MND at Seacroft Hospital on Monday will go ahead as planned at Rob’s request. At this time, we would ask that everyone respect the privacy of the Burrow family.”

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 achieved in 2004 alongside national-team honours with England for the first time.

Great Britain would turn to Burrow for their Test series with New Zealand in 2007 and he starred in the 3-0 victory where he was awarded player of the series following two tries and nine goals.

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.

Rob Burrow File Photo
Burrow, pictured alongside wife Lindsey, daughters Macy and Maya, and Kevin Sinfield at the Leeds Marathon last month (Danny Lawson/PA)

The fearsome scrum-half announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2017 season in July of that year and enjoyed a fairy tale 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 former team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan, which played out in front of almost 20,000 spectators at Headingley.

Rugby League – Frontline Test – Great Britain v France – Headingley
Kevin Sinfield congratulates Burrow on a try for Great Britain in 2007 (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Burrow would meet with the late Doddie Weir, who also fundraised and raised awareness of MND before his death in 2022, soon after 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 Motor Neurone Disease 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 in the wake of the condition of the Leeds great worsening and would help raise millions with numerous challenges, which included the remarkable feat of running seven marathons in seven days.

Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon 2023
Sinfield carried Burrow across the finish line at the 2023 Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon (Danny Lawson/PA)

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, but his death due to the illness was confirmed on June 2.

“Our thoughts today are with Rob’s wife Lindsey, children Macy, Maya and Jackson, family and friends and the rugby community,” a statement from the MND Association read.

“It is testament to the strength of feeling people have for Rob that the support in his name has never wavered.

Flowers and shirts have been left at Headingley
Flowers and shirts have been left at Headingley (Danny Lawson/PA)

“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.”