Former Academy Players going to new heights to support coach Burrow and MND

On 12th December, players from Leeds Rhinos’ 2018 Academy squad will surmount the Lake District’s Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, to show support for their former coach Rob Burrow and raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Following his retirement Burrow took up the role as head coach of the Academy, and in his first season led the Rhinos to their first Academy Grand Final since 2012. All seventeen players that ran out on that day have since gone on to sign contracts with Betfred Super League, Championship or League One sides, while ten of them have made their first team debuts for the Rhinos, including Harry Newman, Jack Broadbent, Mikolaj Oledzki, Tom Holroyd and Muizz Mustapha.

Hooker Harvey Whiteley captained the Academy during that memorable season and called on his team mates to support the coach that taught them so much through every stage of the club’s player pathway.

“I think it’s important that we show our gratitude to Rob and show our thanks for what he has given to us as a coach in terms of how we play the game and how we were in that group”, he said. “There is a good number of us that are doing the Pike hike. I wanted to organise it earlier in the year but a lot of the lads have been playing so it’s tough when they’re in the Super League season playing week in and week out to then trek up a pike!

“All together, we’re aiming to raise £777 because that was Rob’s number and I think we’re up to nearly £600 now already which is great. There are a few lads that have operations or can’t make it but they’re supporting us too. “

Growing up, Whiteley said that Burrow was one of his inspirations and to work with the Leeds legend throughout the club’s Scholarship, Academy and Reserves teams was a dream come true.

In his role as a Rugby Development Officer for Leeds Rhinos Foundation too, he is also sharing a lot of Burrow’s coaching tips with the next generation of players. “Personally, he’s coached me since I was in scholarship and I remember one night we were practicing a couple of game drills and he said to me ‘I’m going to be your mentor’,” Whiteley said.

“Growing up watching him playing in the same position as me, I have always idolised him so to have him say that as a coach was massive. What he said that day has always stuck with me all the way through Scholarship and then the Academy and for a lot of the lads and me, how we play the game today is a big reflection on what Rob taught us.

“I’ve definitely taken some of his coaching advice through into my current job too. When I’m coaching an older bunch, specifically when I coached the England Talent Pathway Programme, I always focus on the half backs and hookers, because that’s my position and I try to pass down whatever Rob taught me, like a kicking technique or a passing technique. If it worked for Rob and it worked for me, then it will be the future generations that will benefit.”

After completing the Run with the Rhinos Reimagined 10K last Sunday, Whiteley is eager to continue fundraising for Rob and MND and with the lockdown set to lift in the next week, he said that the Academy group are hoping to represent all players that Burrow has coached by reaching the summit.

He commented: “It’s great to say that we can all come together and do this. We made sure it was going to be after the lockdown and depending on what restrictions come, we’ll have to see but as of now, we should be ok to do it by keeping our social distance or staying in our support bubbles. We’ve made some t-shirts for the group inspired by what Wigan did when they put a word describing Rob on their match shirts. On ours, we’ve got a picture of us all at the Grand Final on the front and then on the back, we’ve got a word that reflects Rob for us individually and what Rob means to us. I think that’s a good testament to him and we’ve got one for him too.

“Like I said, Rob has coached quite a lot of people in his coaching career and has made a massive impact, so hopefully with the money raised and the people that are coming together to do it, it will reflect how much he means to us and the Rugby League family.”

To donate and show your support for Rob, MND and the players, CLICK HERE.