Everyone in Rugby League, and well beyond, was rocked by the news before Christmas that Rob Burrow had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
It was delivered to all of us on the Rugby Football League Board by Kevin Sinfield, a team-mate of Rob’s for so long in that great era of Leeds Rhinos success.
What has happened since has confirmed two things: Rob has been one of the most popular players we have seen in Rugby League in recent times, and remains equally inspirational in the way he has responded to this very different challenge; and the Rugby League family remains as generous as ever when it comes to supporting each other in times of need.
The news this week that Sunday’s pre-season fixture between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls is set to be watched by a capacity crowd at Emerald Headingley underlines both of those points.
So too does the announcement from Sky Sports that they will be televising the match on Sunday afternoon. What a remarkable gesture by Neville Smith, Telegenic and all the camera, sound and technical operators who are donating their services for the day, along with the production and presentation team.
Lizzie Jones MBE will be performing before the game, and a host of Rob’s former team-mates and opponents have volunteered to pull on their boots to show their appreciation.
Along with Carl Hall, our RFL Vice-President, I’ll be joining the walk that been arranged from Odsal to Headingley to add to the heartwarming amount that has been raised over the last few weeks.
We wanted to reflect the fact that the whole game has come together. In such awful circumstances, it promises to be an uplifting day.
Simon Johnson RFL Chair
I think it would be remiss not to recognise the other fine players whose careers will also be recognised on Sunday.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan was another member of Leeds’s golden generation, and the Bradford match had originally been arranged as his Testimonial. It is entirely typical of his character that he was so quick to invite Rob and his family to take centre stage.
Elsewhere in West Yorkshire, Huddersfield Giants will be recognising the immense contribution made to their club by Jermaine McGillvary – who has also given such outstanding national service with England – when they face local rivals Halifax; while Wakefield Trinity’s game against Hull Kingston Rovers will be part of the Testimonial for Danny Brough, who has provided so much entertainment – and success – to supporters of several clubs, as well as the Scotland team.
As RFL Chair, I’d also like to wish good luck to the 44 community clubs who will begin the 2020 Road to Wembley in the First Round of the Coral Challenge Cup this weekend – with the BBC televising Saturday’s tie between Skirlaugh and Hunslet Club Parkside, and the Our League cameras heading for Lincolnshire on Sunday when the RAF face Bentley.
By the time they kick off at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire at 130pm, Carl Hall and I will hopefully be approaching Emerald Headingley with all the others walking there from Odsal. On behalf of the RFL, it will be an honour to play my small part in a weekend when the values and togetherness of our Rugby League family are at their most evident.