SEMI-FINAL ROOKIE Paul Aiton is confident this weekend’s big game will bring the best out of Leeds Rhinos.
A place at Wembley will be at stake when Rhinos take on Warrington Wolves in the first Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final, at St Helens’ Langtree Park in three days’ time.
It will be Aiton’s semi-final debut in any competition as a professional player and the Papua New Guinea international is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Aiton admitted Rhinos will need a huge improvement on recent form, which has seen them win only half of their last eight matches, but insisted Leeds have the big-game experience to do just that.
Rhinos beat Warrington 18-12 at Headingley Carnegie in February, but suffered their heaviest loss of the campaign – 24-6 – in the return two months ago.
“Warrington are a great team,” Aiton warned.
“They are capable of winning the comp, so we need to be at our best.
“You can’t really ask for much more than that, but games like this usually bring the best out of this team.
“I have been watching them for years and you can see they are a team that has been in many finals and does have
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that bit of experience, but we definitely can’t do what we did on Friday night.”
That 20-12 home loss to second-bottom Bradford Bulls cost Leeds an opportunity to go into the semi-final as First Utility Super League leaders.
Aiton admitted: “We need to play a lot better. It was disappointing last week, we made a lot of errors, but having said that, it is a semi-final this week and I think we will learn from it and move on.
“The main thing is, we need to hang on to the ball, but the Cup is a different competition and a big game.
“I haven’t been in a semi-final before - from the age of 18 onwards - so I am looking forward to it.
“I have been in good teams, with good players, but I have missed out a few times. I don’t want to let this chance slip.”
Aiton has never been on the winning side in a Challenge Cup tie. His Wembley hopes with previous club Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ were ended by a fourth round defeat at Leeds in 2012.
Last year he was rested for Wildcats’ victory against Hemel Stags in their opening tie, but played in their subsequent loss at Hull.
Saturday will be his Cup debut for Rhinos after illness kept him out of this season’s fourth, fifth and sixth round victories.
“I love it,” he said of the knockout competition. “It is such a great concept and there’s nothing like it in Australia.
“I am very eager to get through and we’ve got some experienced players who are really keen to win it.
“At any club you want to be in it and each individual player wants to get to the final and win it.”
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott will name an initial 19-man semi-final squad tomorrow.
Ben Jones-Bishop has already been ruled out due to an ankle/knee problem suffered against Bradford, but McDermott said the players who missed last Friday’s game are all likely to be in contention.
“I think we’ve got most people available,” McDermott said.
“We have got one or two people to check on from Friday, but those that were rested because of injury were just precautionary to make sure it didn’t become a proper injury and those that were rested because they needed a rest are available as well.”
Rhinos under-19s are away to Hull, at Hull YPI, tomorrow (7pm).