SADDLEWORTH rugby league great Kevin Sinfield has been left stunned by the response to the appeal for big friend and former team-mate Rob Burrow.
The Leeds Rhinos’ director of rugby came out of retirement to play in a fundraising match after his pal was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND).
And after his friend received the shattering news, he led the call to arms in an appeal that has raised almost £500,000 for Burrow’s family.
With a testimonial for another mate, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, being made one for both players, a sell-out 19,500 crowd packed the Emrald Headingley stadium.
Sinfield was joined by other legends against Bradfird Bulls, with Jamie Peacock, Danny McGuire, Keith Senior and Ryan Bailey also coming on.
One of the stars, though, was prop Kylie Leuluai, who flattened Bradford youngster Sam Smith.
However, the Independent can reveal the New Zealander, now head of rugby operations at Warrington Wolves – home to Grasscroft’s Josh Thewlis – has not exactly been putting his feet up since retiring from professional rugby in 2015.
For the 41-year-old still turns out playing veterans’ rugby union at Wilmslow in Cheshire.
With Burrow flying out to Miami to watch the Superbowl between Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, the emotion continues to flow – an online fundraising page, which had an original target of £20,000, now stands at £314,000.
And with the funds from the testimonial on top, Burrow, wife Lindsey and his family can expect a huge sum that has left Sinfield amazed.
He said: “It has been overwhelming.It is really tough, but the club have been absolutely fantastic and the support has been unbelievable. Where he’s at is remarkable.
“He is a tower of strength and he’s absolutely determined and really positive. He’s going to give it everything he has got and that group will come together behind him like they always have in tough moments.
“We want to make sure his family, Lindsey and the kids, are looked after. That’s really important to all of us because it means Rob’s mind is not concerned with what’s next.
“He can concentrate on enjoying and creating some fantastic memories with his family.
“We’ll make sure everyone’s there for Rob and gives him that support he needs.”
Sinfield also found himself at the centre of headlines when he stepped down from being head of the Rugby Football League’s performance unit after Shaun Wane replaced Wayne Bennett as England coach.
The 39-year-old led a review into Great Britain’s tour down under last year but he left when the former Wigan boss got the top job ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Sinfield said: “Having reached the 2017 World Cup Final with our men’s team, I was confident we could build on that success in the four-year cycle to a home World Cup in 2021.
“The event will be the greatest tournament our sport has ever hosted and it was my belief that the performance unit was best placed to give all our teams, especially the men’s team, the chance to end our long wait to lift silverware.
“I would particularly like to pay tribute to Wayne Bennett as England Head Coach.
“Wayne has always shown nothing but complete commitment to the England cause during his time in charge of the national team and the wealth of knowledge he has given to our players and coaches will enhance the game in this country for many years to come.
“His passion for this group of players to succeed in a home World Cup was evident every time I spoke to him about his players and I know it will be a disappointment that he cannot complete that journey with them.”