Returning Leeds rugby star sparks fandemonium

Villagers in Papua New Guinea with some of the Rhinos gear given out by Paul Aiton.
Villagers in Papua New Guinea with some of the Rhinos gear given out by Paul Aiton.
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Leeds Rhinos star Paul Aiton knows all about making an impact on the pitch.

But nothing could have prepared him for the scenes that greeted his recent visit to his rugby league-mad home country of Papua New Guinea.

Aiton, 29, caused a sensation when he travelled to the village where he lived until moving with his family to Australia as a youngster.

He was mobbed after heading to a market to give out Rhinos shirts – and such was the chaos, armed police had to fire warning shots to restore calm.

Aiton said: “When I have played for the national team, the Kumuls, you get used to fans running on the pitch at the end but this was something else.

“I paid to take 80kg of excess luggage with me so I could give it out.

“[Rhinos chief executive] Gary Hetherington gave me a full playing kit and I had saved up my training gear from the last few seasons.

“I headed to the market because I wanted to give it to the street kids who have nothing but once people saw me handing out the clothes, it just went crazy.

“Someone called the police and they arrived and fired a couple of warning shots to disperse the crowd.”

Talking about another memorable part of the trip, Aiton said: “I returned to my granddad’s village, I was met on the outskirts by the whole village with the men dressed in their ceremonial costumes.

“I walked at the front with my aunties and the whole village followed us back up the main road.

“There is no power or running water in the village so no matter how tough pre-season gets now, it has certainly made me appreciate life back in Leeds again!”

Aiton joined Rhinos from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and in August became the first Papua New Guinea international to play in a Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

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