VISITORS CATALANS Dragons will be keeping a close eye on Leeds Rhinos hooker Paul Aiton tomorrow.
Gary Hetherington has confirmed Catalans have shown an interest in signing the Papua New Guinea international, though the Rhinos chief executive stressed Leeds want him to be part of the club’s future.
Aiton joined Rhinos from Wakefield Wildcats ahead of the 2014 campaign on a three-year deal, which included an option for the final season.
Hetherington said: “They (Catalans) have shown a bit of interest in him, but he is contracted for next year – though both parties have an option to come out of it if they want.
“Paul had a troubled period with us, but he has settled down and proved to be a fine player and an ambassador as well for the club and we see him very much part of the future going forward.”
Catalans are also understood to be interested in former Leeds hooker Shaun Lunt, who is currently at Hull KR on loan from Huddersfield Giants.
Meanwhile, Aiton – who would not comment on the link with Catalans – said he is focused on helping Rhinos finish the regular season with a win which would send them into next Friday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final and the First Utility Super-8s as league leaders.
“It is like a semi-final every week,” Aiton said.
“We will be playing top-quality teams every week so we definitely want to keep the momentum going and continue that right through.
“The competition is getting a lot stronger because of the importance of the Super-8s.
“Intense is the key word, it is going to be very intense over the next few weeks. I like the Super-8s. If it makes games more intense, so more people want to watch, that’s great for the sport.
“Nobody knows what is going to happen, but some of the games recently – to see who gets in or out of the top-eight – have been quite intense.
“If that’s a taste of what’s to come it is going to be very interesting.”
Rhinos thrashed Salford Red Devils 70-6 eight days ago and Aiton reckons they are going into the business end of the year in good form, after a mid-season wobble.
“We could easily have taken our foot off the accelerator at some stage in that game,” Aiton reflected. “But we didn’t.
“The best thing we can do is continue that. We have set a standard now.
“We only conceded one try last week and that’s extremely hard to do, so we were pleased with that.”
Rhinos are set to face Catalans again, in Perpignan, in the Super-8s and Aiton said: “They will be disappointed with their performance last week (in a 14-12 home loss to Huddersfield) and they will want to bounce back.
“They are a good team, we can’t underestimate them. They won here in the play-offs last year and that’s fresh in everyone’s minds.
“They are under a bit of pressure, but they can pull things off and play really well.”
Rhinos take on St Helens next week with a place at Wembley up for grabs, but Aiton insisted that won’t be on the players’ minds tomorrow.
“We are fully focused on Catalans,” he stressed. “We want to continue performing to the standard we set for ourselves.
“That’s all we are thinking about. We can’t afford to think about next week.
“After what Catalans did to us last year, we have to be focused on them. It is a short turnaround, but unfortunately over here it is part and parcel.
“We are used to it. We don’t want it, but it is what it is and we just have to get on with it.”
Aiton and Carl Ablett are Rhinos’ only ever-presents this year.
The 30-year-old has started every game other than the defeat at Widnes Vikings in April, when he was among the substitutes.
He was hit by illness last season and made only 13 starts, with another seven appearances off the bench.
Of his own form, he said: “I’m getting lots of game time and really enjoying it.
“I am really starting to establish my role in the team, which I had lost since I left Wakey.
“I feel it is coming back and there’s still a bit more to come, I think.”