Rob Burrow says he has been overwhelmed by the reaction to news of his diagnosis for motor neurone disease as he strives to lead a normal life.
The former Leeds and Great Britain half-back, 37, who was diagnosed in December with the rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, is continuing to coach the Rhinos’ reserves and, remarkably, will pull on the boots to play in Sunday’s pre-season friendly with Bradford at Headingley.
Funds from that match, which will be broadcast live by Sky Sports, will be shared between former team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial and the fund established to support Burrow and his young family.
Burrow’s long-time half-back partner Danny McGuire has become the latest big name to commit himself to the game, which is heading for a near 20,000 sell-out and will boost a fund that has already raised over £250,000 in under three weeks.
“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” Burrow told the PA news agency. “Obviously when it was announced, I was inundated with messages and the money raised has been unbelievable.”
Former Great Britain captain and coach Ellery Hanley was among the first to contact Burrow while actor Matthew Lewis, former England football captain Wayne Rooney and newly crowned world darts champion Peter Wright are among the high-profile figures to offer support.
“I can’t get over how much people are wanting to do for me,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words.
“The guy in the street who shakes your hand is as important as Wayne Rooney’s message.
“When that ends, it will be normal life. Normality is the big thing for me. At the moment my head is good. That might change over time but, while ever I feel fit and strong, I’ll carry on as normal.
“I’m in an absolutely great place, in the circumstances. The first two weeks were the hardest but I’m over that now and my frame of mind is really positive.
“The voice is the only way of finding out that something’s wrong. Other than that, I don’t feel unwell.”
It is typical of the humility of the man that Burrow feels the need to apologise throughout his interview for the slurring of his speech, but he has retained his sense of humour.
Asked if he needed his doctor’s permission to lace the boots on Sunday, Burrow said: “Not really. Obviously I won’t be tackling, but it will be good for the muscles.
“If you watch my last couple of years, I didn’t do much any way, so normal duty resumes. No I think I’ll be all right.
“It will be nice to play at the new stadium and to wear the blue and amber again in front of an amazing crowd.
“The nice thing for me is I get to take my girls out and my little boy who never did that when I played. So for him to wear the shirt and walk out with me will be extra special.”
Burrow paid special tribute to Leeds director of rugby Kevin Sinfield, with whom he who won eight Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups in his 17 years with the Rhinos.
“Kev has been a stand-out, a bit like a big brother, in every way,” he said. “He takes me to the appointments and he can’t do enough for me. I’ll be forever grateful to Kev and the club.”
Burrow’s next task will be to ask Sinfield for some time off after being gifted a trip for him and wife Lindsey to the Super Bowl in Miami on February 2.
“I still can’t believe it’s true,” he said. “I don’t watch much sport but I like the (Seattle) Seahawks and I like the NFL. I’m really grateful.”