Hooker Paul Aiton reckons rhinos’ forwards should be happy with the work they’ve done so far. Peter Smith reports.
THE BACKS have been grabbing all the headlines, but hooker Paul Aiton reckons Leeds Rhinos’ pack can be quietly satisfied with how they have started the season.
Rhinos have run in 10 tries in their opening two First Utility Super League fixtures, all of them scored by backs.
With Kevin Sinfield, playing stand-off or scrum-half, having kicked Leeds’ six goals in the victories over Hull KR and Warrington Wolves, Rhinos’ forwards have yet to get on the scoreboard.
But the flair men can’t do their stuff if the grafters don’t create space and ensure they get the ball in the right areas on the field – and so far Aiton feels Leeds pack, pinpointed by some pundits as a weakness before the season began, are doing that.
“I think we are going all right,” Aiton said of the effort put in by the forwards at the start of the campaign.
“Kylie [Leuluai] and JP [Jamie Peacock] are leading from the front.
“I am really enjoying playing with JP – he just leads by example.
“He is definitely a great pack leader and I really enjoy playing alongside him.”
Despite Leeds’ positive start, Aiton – who suffered an ankle injury in the victory at Hull KR – said he isn’t entirely happy with his form in the opening two games.
He was player of the year for Wildcats in 2013 and said: “I would have liked to have started this season the way I left off last year.
“I am still getting to know the boys, but I don’t think it will take me long.
“I feel as though I’ve settled in. I am still enjoying it, but getting the ankle injury was annoying.
“That’s one of those things that can sometimes be in the back of your mind, but for me I just want to get it back to 100 per cent so I can be a bit more sharp out of dummy-half, but I am pleased I got on the field last week and I got to enjoy the win with the boys.”
The Papua New Guinea international was a regular starter at Wakefield, but has been used off the bench by Leeds in the two games to date, coming on to replace Rob Burrow.
That is a new situation and he said: “I have just got to get used to it really. It is a different role.
“I am used to starting and doing the 80 and now I have got to pace myself.
“Being on the bench a lot can happen before I get on the field, but Mac [coach Brian McDermott] has been good.
“He gave me a lot of time last week and he has been letting me settle into my role. I have just got to pick it up now.”
Aiton insisted he is happy to fill whatever role McDermott hands him. “He is steering the team,” he said. “I would love to start, but I’ve just got to keep playing well and give him another choice.”
Rhinos will aim to make it three wins from three when they take on Catalan Dragons in Perpignan tonight. “It has been good – better than two losses,” Aiton said of Rhinos’ start.
“Like any team we have still got a few things we need to sort out, but we are going all right and it is good to get two wins early in the season.”
Catalan also have a 100 per cent record, but of defeats rather than victories.
They were pipped 36-34 at Hull in round one, before a 32-6 drubbing away to Castleford Tigers five days ago.
Tonight is their first home game of 2014 and Aiton warned: “They are always tough – any team that goes there is going to have a real battle.
“They have got a good team and good players like Jeff Lima – he is a real competitor.
“They haven’t had a good start, two losses, but they have both been away games. This is their first game at home and it is going to be a big one for them.
“It should be a good game, but the two games we have played so far were really tough as well. “It is a tough competition. We have had a couple of wins and we just want to build some momentum.
“We are looking forward to getting there, getting the job done and coming home.”
Leeds flew to France this morning and are due to jet back around two hours after the final hooter.
“A day trip paid off last year, when Rhinos battled to a 27-12 victory, despite having Ryan Bailey sent-off.
“During his time at Wakefield Aiton was used to arriving in France the day before the game, but he recalled: “When I was at Penrith Panthers we flew to Melbourne, which is a few hours’ flight, in and out in the same day.
“The club wants us to go there, get the job done and get straight home, so let’s go and do it.”
Catalan Dragons: from Webb, Escare, Millard, Baile, Oldfield, Pryce, Bosc, Lima, Henderson, Fakir, Taia, Whitehead, Mounis, Pelissier, Maria, Paea, Baitieri, Simon, Vaccari.
Leeds Rhinos: from Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Ablett, Delaney, Clarkson, Bailey, Ward, Aiton, Singleton, Sutcliffe, Jones-Bishop.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).
Kick-off: 7pm GMT (8pm local time).