Shropshire Star

Leeds to pay tribute to ‘remarkable’ Rob Burrow during clash with Leigh

Burrow’s family will be in attendance and Leeds will wear a specially-designed kit for what will be the team’s first match without Rohan Smith.

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Leeds will put their search for a new head coach aside as they prepare to pay tribute to the “remarkable” Rob Burrow both prior to and during Friday night’s Betfred Super League clash with Leigh.

One of the biggest Headingley crowds in recent years will witness a variety of tributes to their talismanic number seven, who died earlier this month after a valiant battle with Motor Neurone Disease, on a date that coincidentally falls on Global MND Awareness Day.

Burrow’s family will be in attendance and Leeds will wear a specially-designed kit for what will be the team’s first match without Rohan Smith, who left by mutual consent on Wednesday in the wake of Saturday’s dismal 18-10 defeat at Hull FC.

Rugby League – First Utility Super League – Semi Final – Leeds Rhinos v St Helens – Headingley Carnegie
Tributes will be paid to Leeds great Rob Burrow on Friday (Richard Sellers/PA)

Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “The game is significant in itself but the occasion is all about bringing together what will be pretty much a capacity crowd who are all coming to pay their respects to Rob Burrow, and his contribution to rugby league and MND.

“I have spoken many times to Rob’s father, Geoff, who remembers bringing Rob to his first ever game when he was around five years old, and it was Leeds versus Leigh at Headingley.

“His struggle with MND has been remarkable, and it has certainly brought rugby league together. Tomorrow is an opportunity for people to come to the game and to pay tribute to an iconic rugby league player and an iconic person.”

Hetherington explained that the timing of the decision to part company with Smith was related to the desire not to introduce external factors into a unique occasion, with a growing section of the Rhinos fanbase having publicly demanded Smith’s dismissal in recent weeks.

“They were very amicable, open and honest conversations and we arrived at an outcome, and that’s not always the case in delicate discussions,” added Hetherington.

“I would pay tribute to Rohan and his integrity and general interest not in himself but in the club and the club’s welfare, and the fact of the Rob Burrow tribute and everything that goes with it, and that’s testament to the man himself.”

Hull KR v Leeds Rhinos – Betfred Super League – Sewell Group Craven Park Stadium
Rohan Smith was relieved of his duties at Leeds this week (Mike Egerton/PA)

The special kit for the game, which was designed by Cath Muir, who was diagnosed with MND in 2014, features an image of Burrow with his friend Kevin Sinfield, and a portion of the profit from each shirt sold will be donated to the Leeds Hospitals Charity appeal to build the Rob Burrow Centre for MND.

A host of former team-mates will be present including Danny Buderus, current general manager of football for Newcastle Knights in Australia’s NRL, who flew in on Wednesday and will return Down Under on Saturday, plus Ali Lauitiiti and Andrew Dunemann.

Leeds will be led by interim coaches Chev Walker – a team-mate of Burrow’s in the 2004 Grand Final victory which began a decade of dominance for the Rhinos, and Scott Grix, while Ian Blease will oversee his first match since starting his job as sporting director on Monday.

Chev Walker
Chev Walker (pictured) will join Scott Grix in interim charge of Leeds on Friday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Blease was coy about reports strongly linking his former Salford colleague Paul Rowley and ex-Parramatta Eels boss Brad Arthur with the role, and did not rule out appointing a replacement on an interim basis.

Blease described the NRL as an area he is “keen to explore”, and said he could “probably envisage” a coach of the calibre of Arthur being on his shortlist.

He added: “We are big on confidentiality in this process and there is no time-scale. Talented coaches interest me and Paul would be one of them, obviously. I will do thorough research and applications are coming in as we speak.”

Leeds face an injury crisis heading into the Leigh game with Ash Handley and Harry Newman both joining the likes of Andy Ackers, Tom Holroyd and Sam Lisone on the sidelines after picking up concussions in the defeat at the MKM Stadium.

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