Rob Burrow’s “positive character” will be his biggest asset following his motor neurone disease diagnosis, according to his former Leeds Rhinos team-mate Keith Senior.
The 37-year-old Burrow announced on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the condition which affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure, and the exact causes remain unclear.
Senior and Burrow are friends and still meet up regularly, and Senior revealed Burrow had told him the news last week.
— BBC Yorkshire (@BBCLookNorth) December 19, 2019
Senior said Burrow had been beating the odds throughout his career, as someone who stands just five feet five inches in a hugely physical sport, but believes the hardest aspect for his old team-mate of the diagnosis will be the impact on his family.
Burrow, a winner of eight Super League Grand Finals during a glittering career which came to an end in 2017, has three children under the age of eight, and last Sunday celebrated his son’s first birthday.
Senior, who described getting the news as “a smack in the teeth”, told the PA news agency: “He was very positive (when he told me), that’s the beauty of Rob, he’s a very positive character and I know he’ll be as positive as he can because it’s the only way he knows.
“It’s tough what he’s dealing with, but it’s also tough for his kids and his wife. He’s been with his wife since they were teenagers, they’ve got three young children together. He’s a big family man and that’s probably the hardest thing to take – that there’s a possibility he’s going to be leaving his family behind.
“He was a massive family man (when he played) – he wasn’t a big drinker, a big socialiser. He was renowned, whenever we were going out, when it got to about six o’clock he’d be back-dooring it and disappearing off home.
“That was the type of guy he was, because his family is massively his priority. It hit me pretty hard in that respect. His little boy just turned one on Sunday and there’s a possibility he’s not going to see his kids grow up, which for anybody is hard to deal with.
“For his mum and dad too, any parent’s worst nightmare is having to deal with something your child has got, and you can’t do absolutely anything about it.”
Senior first came across Burrow in 1999 after he joined from Sheffield, and the diminutive man quickly made a big impression on him.
“He was just a little whipper-snapper and he broke into the first team a couple of years afterwards,” he said.
“I had to look after the little fella when he got himself into a few scrapes, a few fights and stuff. I’ve become a little bit protective of him, because he’s only four foot four.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s very likeable and a bit of a joker. I can imagine him doing his best to find some funny points out of this.”
Senior is a player support officer for RL Cares, a charity which provides support and advice to players and former players of all ages and at all levels.
He has already made a personal donation to Burrow’s Virgin Money fund-raising page, and added: “The fund-raising over the next few months will be massive, no doubt.
“We’re all going to get together in the new year, the players that played with him, and put our heads together and see what else we can do.
“Through RL Cares the support will be there, not just for him but also for his family.”