Hooker Paul Aiton has told Leeds Rhinos he will leave at the end of this season to join a rival First Utility Super League club.
The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed last month that Catalans Dragons are keen to sign the Papua New Guinea international, who joined Rhinos from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats ahead of the 2014 campaign.
Catalans hooker Ian Henderson confirmed yesterday he is to join Sydney Roosters in 2016 and Rhinos’ announcement clears the way for the French outfit to unveil Aiton as their latest signing.
Aiton joined Leeds on a three-year contract, but with an option for both player and club to terminate the final year and that has now been taken up by the 30-year-old.
Rhinos were aware Aiton could opt to move on and have been on the hunt for a replacement. Possible candidates include Hull’s Danny Houghton, Manly Sea Eagles’ Matt Balin and ex-Leeds man Shaun Lunt, who is on loan at Hull KR from Huddersfield Giants.
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “It has not come as a surprise because Paul rejected a new three-year contract from us and told us of interest from other clubs some time ago.
“But it is always disappointing when a player of Paul’s standing decides to leave the club. He is a full overseas quota player, so that provides us with some flexibility for 2016 and the search for another good player is on and will take as long as it needs to.”
Coach Brian McDermott responded: “Paul has shown good form this season and I and the club wanted him to stay, but I respect his decision and I have no doubt he will continue to perform to his best until the end of the season.”
Aiton is ever-present for Leeds this term.
“I have been speaking with the club for a number of months now and unfortunately we have been unable to reach an agreement for next year and beyond,” he said in a statement released by Rhinos.
“I remain totally committed to the Rhinos’ cause for the remainder of the season and want to finish my time at the club on the best possible note.
“Unfortunately as a professional rugby player you have to make tough decision like this for yourself and your family as our earning potential is only over a short period of time compared to everyone else.
“I will leave the Rhinos at the end of the season with great mates for life and hopefully even more fantastic memories.”