How it all started: A look back at how Rob Burrow established himself as one of rugby league’s household names

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Good player, but too short. That was the tag that Rob Burrow was given since starting out in rugby league.

513 games for club and country later, it’s safe to say that Burrow had the last laugh; here’s how he went on to be come one of rugby leagues household names.

Rob Burrow rugby background

Burrow was brought up in Castleford, a town where rugby league is more or less religion.

He started playing when he was seven years old, in his own words he had every pad on that you could buy.

He played for Castleford Panthers as a junior, until he was 16. It was then he realised he could play rugby league for a living.

He moved to Leeds Rhinos at that age and played in their academy for a few years, before playing for a Leeds reserve side in what was his first taste of open-age rugby league.

Leeds faced St Helens’ reserve side, and Burrow soon made his mark by putting in a big shot on Wayne McDonald, who stood over a foot taller than him.

Rob Burrow
Rob Burrow

In 2001 Daryl Powell was appointed as the coach of Leeds Rhinos, that’s when Burrow really made his breakthrough, as he became a regular player in the Rhinos side.

Burrow made his debut against Hull FC, before scoring his first try in Powell’s first game against Warrington Wolves.

The game was live on TV, and everyone was talking about the small player on the Rhinos team, soon everyone would know his name.

Despite losing the tie, Burrow scored a try, cutting the Wolves defence wide open. A sign of things to come.

Rob Burrow
Rob Burrow

Burrow would come close to his first success in the 2003 season, as Leeds made it to the Challenge Cup final.

He started the game on the bench, in a game where Leeds would miss out on the trophy by two points, with Kevin Sinfield famously choosing not to kick a penalty, which would’ve levelled the scores.

The trophies start to come

Burrow was part of a Leeds side who people could see were coming good, but just needed a little more time to develop.

In 2004 Burrow would start on the bench in another final, this time at Old Trafford against the side who beat them the previous year in the Challenge Cup.

This time Leeds came out victorious and picked up their first league title in 32 years. The Rhinos were becoming a recognisable name in the big games, and Burrow was a part of that.

In 2005, Burrow had another chance to get his hands on the Challenge Cup. Having made his debut only four years earlier, it was the only trophy that he hadn’t won, in such a short career.

Burrow started at scrum-half, however it was heartbreak again, this time missing out on the cup by one point, and the disappointment that year didn’t stop there.

Leeds returned to Old Trafford that very same year, hoping to make it back-to-back titles. Yet again, Burrow was named in the starting 13, he was now a regular in the number seven position.

The Rhinos would miss out on that trophy too, losing 15-6 to Bradford Bulls, the side who they defeated a year earlier.

That year was a season where Burrow’s Leeds side had victory at their fingertips but fell at the final hurdle.

Rob Burrow – the fans’ favourite

Burrow had not only established himself as a regular at Headingley in this period, but he was also a fan favourite.

2006 was another year where success eluded Burrow and his Rhinos team, despite some impressive performances.

A year later that changed, with the Rhinos returning to Old Trafford to face St Helens.

Leeds ran riot, beating Saints 33-6, with Burrow kicking a drop-goal, as well as picking up the Harry Sunderland man of the match trophy.

If anyone was in any doubt of Burrow’s quality, they certainly weren’t any longer. Burrow had become one of the stars of Super League, with every fan in the country admiring the 5’5 half-back.

That year would bring more success for Burrow. He was called up to the Great Britain squad for the first time to face New Zealand in their test series.

Burrow won player of the tournament, as England won all three games. He also scored more points than any other player that series.

Burrow wasn’t just a household name in England anymore. Rugby league fans around the world now all knew about him, after the test series.

Leeds were now a force to be reckoned with, picking up the Super League title in 2008 and 2009, and Burrow was at the heart of that side.

In that period, he was a regular feature on the international scene, and played his part in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.

It was a disappointing tournament for Great Britain, as they were knocked out in the semi-finals. Burrow scored two tries that tournament.

He would find more success in 2011, winning the Super League once again.

Burrow scored what is seen to be the best try in a Grand Final. He became the first player to lift the Harry Sunderland award twice. He was also the first player to have every journalist vote for him as man of the match.

Ending the Challenge Cup wait

Only one trophy eluded Burrow, the Challenge Cup. After missing out on five separate occasions, some questioned whether Leeds would ever lift the trophy.

In 2014 the Rhinos met Castleford Tigers at Wembley, Burrows home-town club. After years of hurt the Rhinos were victorious, and Burrow had won every trophy available to him at club level.

Burrow went on to win another Challenge Cup, two more Super League Grand finals and a league leaders shield.

He was a favourite in a star-studded team and one of the most recognisable names of the sport.

In 2021 he was inducted to the Leeds Rhinos Hall of Fame. His style of play was admired around the world.

Everyone knew who the lad from Castleford, who many said was too small to play the game, was.

More Rob Burrow news

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