Rob Burrow fought back the tears as he made his final appearance for Leeds with a cameo performance in front of a sell-out crowd of almost 20,000 at an emotionally-charged Headingley.
Burrow, 37, who was diagnosed with incurable motor neurone disease in December, walked out with his three young children to a standing ovation before the start of the Rhinos’ pre-season trial match against Bradford.
The former Great Britain scrum-half then went on for the last five minutes to play his first rugby since hanging up his boots after helping Leeds to victory in the 2017 Grand Final at Old Trafford.
Former team-mates Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Keith Senior and Kylie Leuluai also took part in the latter stages of the match, which the Rhinos won 34-10.
Speaking on the pitch after the final whistle with one-year son Jackson in his arms, Burrow struggled to keep his emotions in check as he said: “I was tired but I absolutely loved every minute of it.
“You don’t know how much it means, no words will come close to describing how I feel right now. Thank you so much.”
Burrow, who enjoyed a glittering career for Leeds, added at his post-match press conference: “It’s hard to put into words. I’ve been struggling with my words anyway. I’m overwhelmed and humbled. It really meant something.
“In rugby league we stay together and look after our own. Today was an example of what our game is all about.
“I’m not one for the limelight but it’s been a big day. After this I’ve got some stuff tomorrow and when that settles it’s back to normal life. That’s changing nappies and a bit of coaching and the sooner I get back to that the better. But how can you not enjoy a day like today.”
McGuire, a team-mate of Burrow from the age of 10, told Sky Sports: “It’s a real special occasion.
“I class him as one of my best friends and it was an honour to be out there with him today.”
Although he was on the field for just 10 minutes, it was long enough for Peacock, who had cut short a skiing holiday to take part, to sustain a gash to his head that needed bandaging.
In addition, former Bradford internationals Stuart Fielden and Robbie Hunter-Paul played cameo roles in a match that also provided funds for the Jamie Jones Buchanan testimonial.
The Bulls agreed to donate their share of receipts to the fund set up to raise money for Burrow’s family which has so far raised over £245,000.
Papua New Guinea international Rhyse Martin scored two tries and kicked five goals in Leeds’ victory.