Rob Burrow death: Ceremony to break ground for motor neurone disease centre is what he would have wanted, says family

Rob Burrow's family has told Sky News a ceremony to break the ground for a centre bearing his name is "what he would have wanted" despite his death the day before.

The former rugby league player and charity fundraiser died aged 41 on Sunday after a four-and-a-half-year battle with an incurable illness.

The new £6m Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease at Seacroft Hospital in Leeds will be a state-of-the-art facility designed to support the needs of people with MND (Motor Neurone Disease).

His family said the ex-Leeds Rhinos star would have wanted them to be there as construction work started on the site on Monday.

His mother Irene said: "He'll be so proud that we've pulled ourselves together and we've managed to get here. We've got to do it for Rob, [his wife] Lindsey and the kids, and the whole MND community.

"And keep strong and keep smiling because that's what Rob was - he smiled everyday. We're so proud of him."

She added: "We just want to find a cure and if we keep raising money we'll get there. And Rob will put a thumbs-up because that's what he wanted."

Rob Burrow's sister Joanne Hartshorn told Sky News: "We've wanted this day for a while. It's an important day. It's unfortunate it's the day after Rob's passing but we spoke to Rob and said do we want to go ahead today and it was an absolute yes, that's what Rob would have wanted."

"Rob will be looking down and hopefully be proud," she added.

His other sister Claire Burnett was tearful as she said: "We're just overwhelmed with it all. I have never seen so much love."

And his father Geoff was also emotional as he said: "It means everything to break the soil, more than words can say. People say things happen for a reason. If their reason's a cure, bless you Rob."

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Before his death, Burrow had spearheaded a £6.8m charity appeal for Leeds Hospitals Charity, where he received care, for a centre for those with MND living in and around the city.

Since his death was announced on Sunday evening, the appeal has received around 1,000 donations.

Geoff Burrow said the family would carry on with his son's work and spoke of his hope that a cure for the disease would be found.

"I wish we'd have got it before he passed, but we will get it, for him and all the poor families suffering with MND.

"He'll be smiling, thinking 'keep checking on them dad, make sure they keep digging'."

Burrow and his former Leeds Rhinos teammate Kevin Sinfield raised millions of pounds together for charity to raise awareness and fund research into MND.

In January, the Prince of Wales presented the pair with CBEs in recognition of their "phenomenal" fundraising efforts.

Sinfield, who also attended Monday's ceremony, said his friend was "superhuman, superman" and his death will leave a "massive hole", adding it was important he "continues to live forever".

Fighting back tears, Sinfield said: "I wish he could have seen the outpouring of love.

"I think we all lose special people but it's very, very rare you lose someone who's so special to so many different people."

He added: "As you can see, it's pretty raw still.

"He'll leave a massive hole and I know there will be a lot of people out there who are heartbroken this morning at the news from yesterday."

Meanwhile, well-wishers gathered outside Headingley Stadium in Yorkshire, the home of his team Leeds Rhinos, on Monday morning to pay their respects, laying flowers, scarves and other tributes.