Sam Burgess' emotional tribute to Rob Burrow amid devastating MND connection

Sam Burgess paid tribute to Rob Burrow describing the rugby league great’s “heart of a thousand lions.” Leeds Rhinos legend Burrow died aged just 41 on Sunday after a four-and-a-half year battle with motor neurone disease.

Warrington boss Burgess, speaking ahead of Saturday’s Challenge Cup final Wembley showdown with Wigan, played alongside the brilliant scrum-half for England and Great Britain. He also faced Burrow numerous times in Super League and Burgess’ own father Mark also died from MND in 2007 so he knows only too well just how horrific the disease truly is.

He said: “I’d obviously known Rob for a long time. It is a horrible disease. We all knew that four-and-a-half years ago. It’s a really sad day. It’s tragic news. But we all knew it was coming at some stage: it’s the reality of MND.

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“And he’s left such a remarkable legacy in the MND community and sport in general, not just England but across the globe. For that, many people will be forever in debt to him. That legacy will no doubt continue to grow. He had the heart of a lion on the field and a heart of a thousand lions off it. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish all his family and friends the best.”

Burrow was scrum-half when Burgess made his Great Britain debut in 2007, announcing himself on the biggest stage with that famous hit on New Zealand’s Fuifui Moimoi. And the pair were also in tandem when Burgess first appeared for England against France the following year plus Burgess’ only previous Wembley appearance - that heart-breaking last-minute 2013 World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand.

He added: “I also made my Super League debut for Bradford Bulls against Rob. He kicked the winning goal for Leeds to win 26-24 at Headingley. I didn’t bring that up much!”

Asked what Burrow was like, ex-South Sydney powerhouse Burgess joked: “A cheeky little bugger. He was great fun to be around, a great character and great competitor. He defied the laws of physics on the field: smaller than everyone else and half everyone else’s size and weight but still caused everyone problems. To be able to do that you have to have a level of cheekiness and personality to make it happen. That was Rob.”

Burrow, of course, won the Challenge Cup twice with Leeds in 2014 and 2015. The RFL are making plans to commemorate him on Saturday when there will be a minute’s silence ahead of the men’s and women’s Cup finals. Fans will also be asked to applaud in the seventh minute - noting Burrow’s shirt number - in all four matches.

Burgess, 35, said: “Everyone will try and represent Rob in a great fashion, not just us. All eight teams competing there will look to put on a great spectacle: let’s get a sold-out crowd, let’s get it full and let’s make it a special occasion for such a special bloke."