Leeds Rhinos: Champions are closing in on hooker says Rhinos chief

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TREBLE-WINNERS LEEDS Rhinos are closing in on a hooker to replace departed No 9 Paul Aiton.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington last night said he is confident of completing a signing in time for the player to make his debut in the Boxing Day challenge match against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Hetherington insisted a deal has not yet been done, but he said: “An announcement is imminent. We need to make a decision and get the ball rolling with work permits and visas, so we can have the player here for pre-season, with a view to him making his debut on Boxing Day.”

Rhinos have been linked with several hookers in Australia’s NRL, including Canberra Raiders’ Glen Buttriss and Beau Falloon, of Gold Coast Titans.

Hetherington confirmed: “We have spent a bit of time over the search for a replacement for Paul Aiton and that search has been centred mainly in the NRL.

“We didn’t anticipate losing Paul Aiton, who has done a very good job for us and has proved to be an ideal complement for Rob Burrow, in that he is a very strong defender and a good distributor.

“That is what we are looking to replace. We want to find an ideal complement for Rob Burrow, who is one of the best acting-half-backs in Super League. He has got real speed and is a terrific support player as well.

“I think the Aiton-Burrow combination has been one of the best in Super League. Most Super League teams have got a very good player in the hooking position, but they tend to be different styles and strengths.

“Michael McIlorum at Wigan doesn’t have much speed, but is a very strong defender. Daryl Clark at Warrington is very quick and elusive out of dummy-half and James Roby at St Helens is an 80-minute player and has all-round abilities.

“But ideally for the 80-minute intensity Super League demands you need two hookers, who can complement each other. I think Paul Aiton and Rob Burrow have done that and Rob showed in the Grand Final he can play 80 minutes and be a real threat to opponents and do an outstanding job.

“But Super League is a long season and we are certainly looking at bringing in a replacement for Paul Aiton, someone with similar strengths.”

Hetherington added: “We could have signed any number of players over the last two months, but we weren’t in a rush.

“It’s important we get the right player. There’s been quite a lot of availability of players in the NRL because they have reduced their interchanges.

“Most NRL teams carry two hookers, but because they’ve got less interchanges they want their hooker to play 80 minutes, which has effectively made quite a number of them redundant. Our job has been to find out who’s available and who’s interested in coming – including players who are in contract. We have been doing quite a lot of due diligence and drawing up a shortlist, with the preferred option to be determined by [coach] Brian McDermott.”

Ryan Hall.

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