Rob Burrow might not be at Wembley this weekend, but his presence will be felt by Luke Gale and his Leeds team-mates.
Gale will be in the no.7 jersey that Burrow wore with distinction throughout his remarkable career, hoping to pay his own tribute to the inspirational former Rhino. Burrow’s brave battle with motor neurone disease was seen by the nation this week following the screening of a heart-breaking BBC documentary charting his story this year.
The cruel condition means Burrow will be watching Saturday’s clash with Salford from home rather than the mooted idea of leading Richard Agar’s side out. But the RFL has made Burrow its chief guest for the game “in absentia”, and Gale knows he will be there in spirit.
“Rob’s been in our thoughts for all of the season, from his testimonial game in January all the way through,” Gale said. “The documentary that came out was so emotional, showing just how much of an inspiration he’s been for the rugby league community, ourselves, his family.
“It just shows you what a character he is. He played with no.7 on his jersey and every time he took to the field he gave it 100 percent.
“That’s what I want to do in honour of him. I’m sure he’ll be watching with his family and he’s definitely at the forefront of our thoughts.”
Full-back Richie Myler echoed Gale’s sentiments. “It’s been motivational for us all year,” Myler said. “I’ve grown up with Rob, seeing him play and come through as pretty much the same sort of player as me.
“I’ve played against him on numerous occasions and roomed with him. It’s one of those that touches everybody – it’s not that long ago that he was playing in a Grand Final.
“We’ve been thinking about him all year, and will be especially wearing the new kit with a reference to him in it, with the seven stripes. That’s a gesture towards him – he’s in everybody’s hearts and prayers.”
Coach Agar took over at the Rhinos while Burrow was still in charge of the academy, before he received December’s devastating diagnosis. Agar added: “He’s very close to a lot of people within our organisation. There are a lot of people in around the staff who have been with Rob for many, many years.
“He’s also coached a number of our younger players coming up through the academy, and been a team-mate of a number of them as well. He’s a special person within our group and there’s a strong desire and motivation to add a bit of extra significance to it.”