Thousands gather to pay final respects at funeral of Rob Burrow

Thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects to former Leeds Rhinos star Rob Burrow as a private funeral service was held on Sunday.

Burrow, who died aged 41 on June 2 after a four-and-a-half-year battle with motor neurone disease, was cremated at Pontefract Crematorium following a service with many ex-team-mates, coaches and staff in attendance, including best friend Kevin Sinfield.

Sinfield flew back from New Zealand, where he has been with England’s rugby union squad in his role as skills/kicking coach, for the service, with fellow former Leeds players Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ryan Hall and Matt Diskin among those also present.

The 43-year-old was granted compassionate leave by England head coach Steve Borthwick and missed Saturday’s first Test against the All Blacks to bid farewell to Burrow, with whom he raised millions of pounds for motor neurone disease charities.

The date of the funeral, July 7, is the day Leeds Rhinos annually celebrate ‘Rob Burrow Day’ due to the number seven shirt he wore during his career.

The funeral procession passed by Featherstone Lions’ ground where Burrow played rugby as a young boy, and slowed again through Featherstone near to where he played junior rugby.

Five cars were present on the cortege – the hearse was followed by wife Lindsey and their three children Macy, Maya and Jackson, alongside his parents Geoff and Irene.

The cars arrived and slowed into Pontefract Crematorium, passing by family and friends for the final time before a haka was performed as Burrow was carried out of the hearse.

Fans were asked to stay away from the crematorium but well-wishers shed tears of sadness and smiled with happy memories as Burrow took his final route from Castleford to Pontefract.

Kevin Sinfield, with wife Jayne, arriving at Pontefract Crematorium
Kevin Sinfield, with wife Jayne, arriving at Pontefract Crematorium (Ian Hodgson/PA)

Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, speaking to the PA news agency, said of Burrow: “He was a true inspiration.

“The whole rugby league community has come together supported by Leeds Rhinos fans and so many others and his efforts over the last four and a half years with MND inspired the nation.

“With so much support from those such as Kevin Sinfield, politicians and other sports figures… it has been quite remarkable and he leaves a huge legacy.

“This is the final journey, it has been a remarkable chapter.

“We all knew what the outcome would eventually be and Rob has been remarkable with his fight and what he’s been able to do, not only Rob, but his family as well, (wife) Lindsey, the parents, the whole family have come together and have been supported by sport in general.

The funeral cortege arrives at Pontefract Crematorium
The funeral cortege arrives at Pontefract Crematorium (Ian Hodgson/PA)

“It’s brought people together and has moved the nation.

“He was full of life, full of ambition and full of enthusiasm.

“Rob was 5ft 4in but was a giant of a man, a giant of a rugby league player and a giant of a person.”

Burrow scored 195 tries in 492 career appearances for the Rhinos throughout his illustrious career and won eight Super League titles as well as two Challenge Cups.

The former England scrum-half increased awareness of MND during the final years of his life and raised over £15 million for charity.

Rob Burrow funeral
Burrow was followed by four other cars on his final procession (Peter Byrne/PA)

Former team-mate Diskin said: “It’s humbling, you can see the affect Rob’s had on the rugby league community, not just Rhinos fans, there are different clubs and fans all lining the streets with respect for Rob not just for his playing days but to see how he met this adversity head on.

“He’s an inspiring man – today will be more emotional than a couple of weeks ago when we celebrated his life at Headingley.

“We’re finally putting him to rest, he’s battled better than most in front of the public eye when most of us would have hid behind closed doors, we finally get to pay him the respect he deserves.

“He inspired millions. It’s a horrible disease and we’ve been unfortunate to see a couple of people now affected with it but Rob was inspiring with it.

“He put himself on show to raise awareness for the community and hopefully find some sort of answers of this.

“He was a joker, he was very funny individual but also a fantastic rugby player. Some of the moments, we could laugh and cry with the times we’ve had. We’ve had some amazing memories to share together, us as a team and his team-mates will say the same.

“You’ll remember him forever.”