PAUL AITON is hoping to create a new generation of Leeds Rhinos fans on the other side of the world, when he appears in Saturday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final.
The hooker will become the first Papua New Guinea-born player to feature in a Wembley final when he comes off the bench against Castleford Tigers in two days’ time.
A former captain of his country, Aiton lived in Papua New Guinea until he was six, when he moved to Australia.
“I have still got very strong connections there,” he said.
“I think it will be creating a lot of attention back home.
“If people find out it’s on, if they don’t have a TV they’ll find one that’s showing it.
“It is on pay TV there and they will definitely watch it. State of Origin is a big concept there and if they knew this concept and what it takes for teams to get to the final, they’d definitely watch it.”
Victory at Wembley would be a fairytale for Aiton, who feared his career could be over when he missed three months of the season due to illness, after joining Rhinos from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last autumn.
“The early part of the year didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” he said.
“I have just got to keep looking up and there is no better thing to be involved in than this.
“I am thankful to the players who have kept the team going so well and for giving me a chance to be there. It is definitely the biggest game of my career. It is the Challenge Cup and knowing how many teams are involved and what it takes to get here, it is a big one for me.”
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott named his team on Monday, with Rob Burrow set to start at hooker and Aiton among the substitutes.
Aiton said that has allowed the team to focus on the game, without worrying about whether or not they will be involved.
“It was really good for the players, to know straight away,” he said. “It means you can prepare yourself, because Saturday is a big thing.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has shrugged off Australian media reports linking Aiton with a drugs investigation into his former club Cronulla Sharks.
Several current Cronulla players have allegedly been offered reduced suspensions if they admit to doping in 2011, when Aiton was also on the books.
But Hetherington called it a “non-story”, saying : “ASADA (the Australian anti-doping agency) have had absolutely no contact with the club, nor the RFL.
“There’s been about a two-year investigation over there and those players have been very much part of that investigation.
“Paul Aiton hasn’t been one of them and there’s been absolutely no contact from ASADA with the club, the player or the RFL.”
The RFL have confirmed Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium will host a replay on Wednesday, September 3, if Saturday’s final finishes all square after 80 minutes.