Barrie McDermott believes Rob Burrow being awarded an MBE is a testament to how much of an inspiration he has been in the fight against motor neurone disease.
Leeds Rhinos great Burrow was among the sports stars included in the New Year Honours List for his services to both rugby league and MND awareness, having been diagnosed with the degenerative illness in December 2019.
Since then, the 37-year-old has been working tirelessly to raise funds for MND research and awareness of the condition as well as becoming an inspirational figure for so many people, with former team-mate and Sky Sports rugby league expert McDermott praising Burrow’s character.
“It’s not just who you are as a player,” McDermott told the Golden Point Podcast. “His playing record speaks for itself, but it’s who he is and how he carries himself.
“It’s been well spoken about, his story of how he was diagnosed, quickly came to terms with it, said he was going to fight it and was going to document it, talk about it and let everybody observe what was going on.
“Hopefully it would inspire, comfort and give other people with MND a little bit of solace in the fact that if it can happen to Rob it can happen to anybody.
“What it has done is raised an amazing amount of money so those people who are not fortunate enough to have the South Stand at Headingley and the whole rugby league family behind them, it gives them that little support they are in it with Rob Burrow. Rob, as an inspiring character is now there for everybody to see.”
His playing record speaks for itself, but it’s who he is and how he carries himself.
Barrie McDermott on Rob Burrow
News of Burrow’s MBE honour came swiftly on the back of him being named as one of four players inducted into Leeds’ Hall of Fame at the end of 2020, with the former half-back and hooker having been a mainstay during the club’s golden generation.
The former Great Britain and England international won eight Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenges and is in an elite group of players to have won the Harry Sunderland Trophy for Grand Final man of the match twice.
Fellow Hall of Fame member McDermott presented Burrow with his certificate and silver salver marking his induction, and the former Rhinos prop knows just how much that meant to him along with his MBE.
“Being around him, as I have been quite a bit over the last 12 months, I know how much that meant to him,” McDermott said.
“The MBE is a wonderful achievement for him…but I know he’ll look at that Hall of Fame award and be truly, truly honoured. He’s talked about being honoured, privileged, proud and being made to feel very humble, but humble is who he is.
“It’s okay being the best player in the world and the club, but it’s how you carry yourself and how much you’re prepared to give back.”
The last 12 months have seen the entire rugby league community, and indeed wider sporting world, rally around Burrow, with former Leeds team-mate and current director of rugby Kevin Sinfield raising over £2.5m for the cause after running seven marathons in seven days.
Castleford Tigers forward Oliver Holmes cycled 100km for seven days straight in support as well, raising over £20,000, while the likes of Batley Boys U8s player Isaac Lawley have been doing their own seven-in-seven fundraisers as well.
McDermott is in no doubt these efforts have shown the spirit of rugby league and brought it into the national spotlight in a way which has not really been done before.
“They’re conditioned to give back to their amateur clubs, their schools and their local community, and I think that’s something rugby league hasn’t managed to shout about loud enough because there are heroes all over the place,” McDermott said.
“It’s shown people who we are and there are a lot of things to be proud of – and I’m incredibly proud of my two friends. It’s in the philosophy of most rugby league lads, I would say, especially when you get to that post-career situation.
“If you’re fortunate enough to have some spare time, there are lots of things going on with Rugby League Cares, Try Assist, the benevolent fund, the Steve Prescott Foundation, and Rob’s stuff is just the latest of those crusades our boys go on.”