Mac: hooker woe cost Leeds Rhinos

Paul Aiton

Paul Aiton

0
Have your say

INJURIES TO the club’s two senior hookers has had a major bearing on Leeds Rhinos’ season, coach Brian McDermott admits.

Paul Aiton made his comeback – after a 13-game lay-off due to illness – in last Sunday’s win at Widnes Vikings and will continue in the side at home to Catalan Dragons tomorrow.

Rob Burrow, who shares No 9 duties with Aiton, has not played since suffering a broken collarbone in a Tetley’s Challenge Cup win over St Helens two months ago, but is set to return to action in July.

McDermott was delighted with Aiton’s contribution to last week’s victory – after a run of three defeats in four First Utility Super League games – and admitted Rhinos have found it tough coping without two of their most pivotal players.

“We are still not where we need to be,” McDermott said. “Against Widnes we were very, very good, but we had some periods when we weren’t.

“That’s not lack of consistency, that’s more getting used to each other. We have tried not to make too big a thing of it, but we lost both Rob and Paul.

“When Paul comes back and you look at how offensively fluent we are, it then dawns on you how big a thing it was to lose both those players. That has been massive.”

Aiton is set to start tomorrow, in place of teenager Robbie Ward, who drops out of the squad. Mitch Achurch, Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai, Stevie Ward and rookie Luke Briscoe are all back in contention, though Jamie Jones-Buchanan has rejoined the casualty list, along with Ian Kirke.

McDermott is looking for Rhinos to build on the seven-try success at Widnes, but he said: “We are still taking stock of the last four, five or maybe six games and reviewing and progressing and improving and building from there.

“We are not there yet. If we had to play a really big game tomorrow, a must-win game, I don’t think we’d be ready.

“But we have got another few weeks before we reach the (Challenge Cup) semi-final, to be in good shape, to get our combinations right, to get people back to being match fit, to get some blokes back from injury.

“Zak Hardaker comes back [from suspension] in three games’ time and he will have to find his feet and the team will have to find their feet with him.

“There’s a few things we have got going on at the moment and it would be wrong to highlight one area and say we have got to get that right.”

Rhinos will go into tomorrow’s game looking to complete a league double after February’s 40-12 victory in Perpignan.

Catalan have won all their home games since then, but have managed just two victories in England, both against bottom club London Broncos.

“They are a different animal now to when we played them earlier in the season,” McDermott said. “They are a much improved team. They struggled to find form at the start of the year and went through some adversity.

“That seems to have gelled them and they are a much more fluent beasts at the moment. They play some good stuff.

“They seem to have got a bit of steel and toughness back. I know there’s an on-going issue with their travelling, but we aren’t banking on that.

“We will try and get ready for the team that’s been in great form these past few weeks.”

Dragons boast a giant forward line-up and McDermott added: “They have a dominant, aggressive, hard-working pack.

“They are direct, big and hard to tackle and it makes them a formidable team.”

Leeds Rhinos from: Jones-Bishop, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Delaney, Sutcliffe, Bailey, Singleton, Walters, Achurch, S Ward, L Briscoe.

Catalan Dragons from: Escare, Oldfield, Pomeroy, Duport, Millard, Pryce, Williams, Bousquet, Henderson, Lima, Taia, Whitehead, Baitieri, Mounis, Garcia, Elima, Anderson, Pelissier, Cardace.

Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm.