Plans are being made for Rob Burrow to lead Leeds out for the Coral Challenge Cup final against Salford at Wembley on Saturday week.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar dedicated his team’s 26-12 semi-final win over Wigan on Saturday to the 38-year-old Burrow, who is battling motor neurone disease, and 20-year-old centre Harry Newman, who missed the game due to a broken leg.
Burrow played in Leeds’ back-to-back Wembley triumphs of 2014 and 2015, as well as winning eight Super League titles before retiring in 2017, but is now largely confined to a wheelchair due to the effects of the condition which affects the brain and nerves.
“I’m thinking about Rob Burrow and Harry Newman and we’d like to dedicate this to them,” Agar said in his post-match news conference.
That prompted suggestions that Burrow could lead the team out at Wembley, a role normally performed by the club chairman, and Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington told the PA news agency that wheels have already been put in motion.
“I know everyone wants Rob to be there and it’s with the RFL,” said Hetherington. “We would certainly be keen for that to happen.”
Such a move would be hugely popular throughout the game after players and fans rallied around Burrow following his bombshell announcement in December.
A fund set up to support Burrow and his wife and three young children has so far raised just under £350,000 and was boosted on the eve of Saturday’s game by £16,500 raised by Wigan through a commemorative jersey sale.
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) October 3, 2020
Leeds are also dedicating a new kit for 2021 to Burrow by incorporating seven amber bands in between the main colours of white and blue to symbolise his old number seven shirt.
Elite Pro Sports chief executive Lee Jenkinson said: “We made a decision early in the design process that we would look to incorporate an acknowledgement to Rob Burrow as a subtle reminder to all of us that Rob and his family remain in our thoughts.”
The Rhinos put on a masterclass of wet-weather rugby to secure a 26th cup final appearance and complete a remarkable turnaround in fortunes after the team was knocked out of the 2019 competition by Championship neighbours Bradford.
Richie Myler missed that 24-22 defeat through injury but appreciates the scale of the transformation.
“It’s pretty special isn’t it, from where this group has been to where we’re going,” Myler said. “I think we’re in a real good place, we can’t wait to get there and play.”
— The Coral Challenge Cup (@TheChallengeCup) October 4, 2020
Wigan went into Saturday’s semi-final as firm favourites but had no answer to the Rhinos’ superb kicking game in the driving rain which helped them establish an unassailable 20-0 interval lead.
“It was a tremendous performance,” said Myler. “We were pretty clinical throughout. The way we controlled the game in the weather in the first half was outstanding.”
Myler, who played scrum-half in the Warrington team that beat Leeds 35-18 in the 2012 final, is now settled in the role of full-back and is expected to keep the job for Wembley, even though original first choice Jack Walker has now recovered from a foot injury.
“It keeps you on your toes,” Myler said. “Jack’s a very, very talented player and it was great to see him back on the field after a long injury.
“I’m loving the role. Rich jokes that maybe I’ve been playing the wrong position all my career, I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not.”