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Purdham puts tragedy aside to lead Quins

Rob Purdham will continue tomorrow with his rugby league career without the encouragement of his elder brother Garry, who was one of the victims of Derrick Bird's shooting spree in West Cumbria last month.

His death has been commemorated by the county's professional clubs (Whitehaven, Workington and Barrow), by his amateur team-mates at Egremont and by the rugby league community at large. But it is by his immediate family that the loss is felt most keenly.

"It just doesn't seem right. It probably never will seem right," says Rob, the England international forward who captains Harlequins."We're trying to get back to the way things used to be, but it never will be the same again."

Purdham spent two weeks after the tragedy back on the family farm in Gosforth where his brother was gunned down. "It still didn't feel long enough, but if I hadn't come back to London then I might never have come back," said Purdham. "Garry's wife and my mum and dad said I should go and get on with my career. Garry was always very supportive of my career and, if he'd known anything like this was ever going to happen, he'd have said 'Carry on and play'."

Although his career took him 300 miles away from the farm, Rob used to talk to his older brother at least once a week, about both rugby and farming matters. "Garry would have wanted me to play," he said. After three weeks on compassionate leave, he obeyed that impulse for the first time last week, turning out for Quins at Hull KR.

"I think about Garry every day, but when you get out on the field you're thinking about a million and one other things. And I have to say the Hull KR fans were outstanding, as well as the players, who all came and shook my hand and asked if there was anything they could do. It was mind-blowing."

The same has applied to a series of commemorative gestures in West Cumbria as people there have united in their grief. "It's not as though this is the only thing we've had. There's been the floods and the bus crash. West Cumbria has had a lot to put up with, but these are the things that bring you together."

It will be another emotional occasion tomorrow, when Purdham leads Quins out at The Stoop for the first time since the tragedy, with Wigan as the visitors. "It will be a big day, a massive thing for me, but I just have to get on with it."