Man of feel Burrow walks tall with a touch of class

The diminutive Leeds scrum-half with sideline in massage will again take a big hand in the Grand Final By Dave Hadfield
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The Independent Online

from Jonty Parkin to Alex Murphy to Andrew Johns, there have been plenty of rugby league scrum-halves who would be happy to be accused of rubbing up people the wrong way.

Not so Leeds' Rob Burrow. The diminutive Rhino, who plays against St Helens in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford this evening, is a professionally qualified masseur, adept at soothing away aches and pains like the ones that are part and parcel of his own playing career.

Burrow and his wife, Lindsey, a qualified physiotherapist, have opened a business near their home in Pontefract that will become Rob's main focus when he retires from playing. At 26 last week, that day is still some way off, but he is a player who believes in looking ahead. "It's something I can do when I finish playing; in the meantime, I give it as much time as I can," he says.

Burrow first became a devotee of massage under the influence of the then Leeds and now England coach Tony Smith, a big believer in its benefits.

He now offers a choice of sports massage, advanced massage and Swedish massage – which sounds suspect but isn't. "And I can't recommend it highly enough," says Burrow. He would say that, perhaps, but he is a pretty good advert himself for its curative powers.

Ever since he first picked up a rugby ball, he has been told that he was too small at 5ft 5in to survive amid the collision of large bodies that is modern rugby league, despite the encouraging precedents from the game's history.

He has proved his durability, however, missing fewer games through injury than many players a foot taller and becoming the first choice for Smith's Test team.

Opponents might fancy their chances of knocking him off his game and female fans might want to mother him, but Burrow is a player who can look after himself, on and off the field.

He was man of the match as Leeds thrashed Saints 33-6 last year, not scoring a try himself, but having a hand in several of the Rhinos' five. "We saved our best performance of the season for the last game and we'll probably have to do the same again," he says. "Saints are a fantastic team. They have generals from 1 to 17, so it will take something special."

The something special at the heart of what could be a classic match will be the contest between Burrow and Sean Long at scrum-half, the Test incumbent versus his predecessor.

Burrow is not massaging his rival's ego when he describes him as the No 7 alongside whom others are still measured.

"Sean Long has been a fantastic player. He's done it for year after year in big games and that's a tribute to his quality. When you're up against a player like him, you've got to watch him all the time."

Long, now an accomplished strategist as well as an individual threat for his club, retired from international rugby in messy and controversial circumstances almost two years ago, leaving the stage clear for Burrow to form an effective Test partnership with Saints' Leon Pryce.

The two players, such a contrast in build, style, temperament and everything else, complement each other in the marriage-of-opposites sense of the term and Burrow is looking forward to them teaming up again in Australia later this month. "In the back of your mind, you know that there's a World Cup coming up, but we've got a season to finish first."

But there's the rub: which Leeds will it be that turns up for the Grand Final? The one that hardly put a foot wrong in the equivalent match last year, or the one that was swept aside at Knowsley Road two weeks ago?

Naturally, Burrow believes it will be the former. "We never got going at Saints, but the lads will be much fresher for this," he promises.

Part of the process of constant refreshment involves stalwarts leaving the club. Even though most of the pre-match publicity has concentrated on the impending departure of Saints' coach, Daniel Anderson, Burrow will be losing at least two team-mates after this game, with Nick Scruton moving to Bradford and Gareth Ellis to Wests Tigers in Australia.

The loss of Ellis will be particularly hard to compensate for, he says. "The only person who could replace Gareth would be Gareth. But he will represent British rugby league with pride and we want him to go out on a high."

Rob Burrow can do more that his share to ensure that. And then, whatever the result, he can also ease away the inevitable bumps and strains.