An Interview with Rob Burrow
Rob Burrow Interview
by Duncan Thorne
Who says size is important?
It’s certainly not when you look at Leeds Rhinos and Great Britain Rugby League star Rob Burrow. In a game commonly associated with men the size of WWF wrestlers battering each other mercilessly for 80 minutes, the pint-sized Burrow is made from a completely diﬀerent mould.
The sight of him scooting around rucks and the play-the-ball area then darting through (or under!) the smallest of gaps is worth the admission money alone. It’s something the Headingley faithful have come to know and love over his eight years with the Club.
“It doesn’t matter what size you are in Rugby League; if you’re good enough and dedicated enough you can make it,” he says emphatically. “I’ve adapted my game to my strengths and that’s why I’ve been successful.”
“I love the physical battle of Rugby League”
But for those unfamiliar with the scheming blond magician, don’t let me paint a picture of someone whose game is just about attack. Former Great Britain Coach, Brian Noble, regularly talks about the need for the modern-day rugby player to be complete and do everything and, without doubt, Burrow has an all-round game that regularly sees him win the arm wrestle before inﬂuencing the outcome of the match through his breaks, passing and kicking.
“I love the physical battle of Rugby League as all the players do – if you don’t, you can’t play this game – but there’s a lot more to it than just making the big hits all the time.”
Some top-level sports stars are often referred to as Rolls-Royces for their elegance, class and smoothness that represents the way they perform. If the 5-foot 5-inch Rhinos scrum half was a motor, he’d be more like a bubbling, super-charged V12 Ferrari due to his electric acceleration, agility and incredible braking power that sees him hitting nought to sixty in the blink of an eye, slamming on the brakes and making a couple of u-turns to avoid on-coming traﬃc (or in his case, would-be tacklers), before stepping on the gas again and disappearing oﬀ in to the distance.
Burrow’s all-action, go-forward style has been one of the major reasons the Headingley outﬁt has ruled the Super League roost over the last few years and made him one of the game’s most popular players.
“I remember a comment that Barry McDermott (the ex-Wigan, Leeds and Great Britain prop forward who made Mike Tyson look like a retired librarian when it came to a physical encounter) made years ago that he’d much rather play against someone his own size than someone like me because it presents such a diﬀerent and diﬃcult challenge.”
So did he ever question whether he’d be big enough to make the grade?
“When I was growing up I used to watch ‘Alﬁe’ (Allan) Langer (the legendary Australian scrum half). I saw the way he used to play and thought, if he can do it at his size then so can I. That’s true of youngsters today. There’s no reason why anyone looking to play the game should be put oﬀ because of their size,” he adds.
“Leeds took a chance on me when I was a youngster. All Clubs do that to some extent when they sign juniors. But in many ways my height made me even more determined to make it. It really spurred me on.”
Burrow was always destined for great things in Rugby League but his career was helped by the Rugby Football League’s decision to switch to summer rugby in 1996 and the hard, fast ground certainly suits his style of play. A quick ﬂick through the record books shows he’s achieved nearly everything at Club level in a glittering career before he’s even reached his peak.
“Internationally we haven’t done ourselves justice”
Last year he became one of only seven players in Leeds’s history to win three championships. He was also a key member of the only Super League side to have won the Grand Final and World Club Challenge in the same year. Add to that individual honours, including the Harry Sunderland Award as Man of the Match in the 2007 Grand Final, the Player of the Tournament against New Zealand, the Rhinos’ Player of the Year and runner-up in the BBC’s Yorkshire Sports Personality of the Year, and it’s clear he’s something very special in a very special era of the Rhinos’ history.
And all this at the grand old age of 27. So what’s left on his Rugby League trophy shopping list?
“I want to keep on winning cups with the Rhinos. Plus I want to keep improving as an individual, performing as consistently as possible and being the best player I can possibly be. The game is changing all the time. As a result it’s important we as a Club move forward. You can’t stand still or other clubs will overtake you. Super League is getting more and more competitive every year. We’ve already seen, this season, that everyone is capable of beating each other on any given day if you’re not at your best. Internationally I think we haven’t done ourselves justice. The World Club at the end of last year was a big disappointment. We just didn’t perform anything like we are capable of.
“We’ve got a chance to rectify that at the end of this season with the Four Nations. So I really hope we have a successful competition and show the world how good our domestic game really is.”
Not one to sit still for long, Burrow is already a qualiﬁed sports masseur. He is also currently studying for a degree in Sports Science at Leeds Metropolitan University. Plus, he has just set up Burrow Physiotherapy with his wife Lindsey.
“It’s something I’ve always been really interested in. It’s what I’ll do full time when I retire from the game. Sports Science, diet, training and recovery methods are all vital in giving us the extra edge. It’s something that’s becoming more and more important in Rugby League. There are so many demands on the body these days. The game is getting faster and faster so any advantage you can get makes a big diﬀerence on the pitch. And on top of that I really enjoy it too.”
Making a diﬀerence on the pitch is what it’s all about. And Burrow certainly measures up when it comes to being one of Rugby League’s biggest stars.
images courtesy of Leeds Rhinos
Editor’s note: This archived interview was conducted in 2009. Rob retired in 2017 then, in 2019, it was revealed that he had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Leeds Rhinos have info on a fundraising page here: therhinos.co.uk