Aiton’s long-term plan lies with PNG game development

Paul Aiton receives his First Utility player of the month (March) award from Rebecca Major.
Paul Aiton receives his First Utility player of the month (March) award from Rebecca Major.
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REIGNING SUPER League player of the month Paul Aiton has revealed his long-term ambition to work behind the scenes of rugby league in his Papua New Guinea homeland.

Aiton is hoping to add to his tally of 14 caps for the Kumuls in the next World Cup, in two years’ time, but admitted he fears for the future of Papua New Guinea’s international side if the running of the game does not improve.

Aiton, 29, confirmed he is keen to take on an administrative role when he eventually hangs up his boots – and said he is already acting as an unofficial, voluntary advisor for PNG players hoping to find a club in England.

The Kumuls are in action on Saturday against Fiji at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and Aiton said he was “a bit disappointed” none of the other English-based Papua New Guinean players were considered for selection.

“There’s seven playing over here, including myself,” he said. “It would have been good to give them a mention, because they are playing really well and doing well for their sides.

“Nobody contacted me, but I don’t think I would have wanted to play, even if Leeds gave me the option. I would rather be here, I think this is more important, but I haven’t heard from anybody.

“I am extremely disappointed in the PNG RFL. I think back in the day it was run extremely well, they kept everyone informed and contacted you during the year as well, but recently I think it has gone a bit downhill.

“None of the players here have heard from anyone since before the World Cup. Nobody has spoken to us.”

Aiton revealed he was threatened with being axed from Papua New Guinea’s World Cup squad in a “payment dispute” ahead of the World Cup two years ago.

“It was pretty bad, I wasn’t treated well at all,” he said. “I had just landed in Australia and I had to drop everything and fly to PNG within 24 hours, it was ridiculous.

“I enjoy playing for PNG, but player welfare was not there. I was really disappointed, it makes you not want to play for them any more.”

Papua New Guinea now has a team in Australia’s Queensland Cup, but Aiton said: “From the outside looking in it looks great, but it wrecked the national competition because the Kumuls won’t pick from all of PNG, they will pick from that one team.

“The national competition has gone down, which is disappointing, because we are trying to build rugby league in the country. It is disappointing how it is being run, but until that is sorted out and player welfare, I don’t think they will do very well.”

PNG lost all their matches at the 2013 World Cup, including to New Zealand at Headingley and Aiton described the team’s performance in the tournament as “the worst I’ve ever been part of and the country has ever seen”.

He added: “That’s really disappointing for a rugby league-mad nation. That all comes down to the office I think.

“The players are there and we’ve got the fans and the money, but it all comes back to the people running the show.

“In the future I would like to look at working for the national competition, doing something off the field and helping them out. We have to get the grassroots right. I would like to play in the next World Cup, but after the last one, I think the administration has to be done right.”

Aiton said he is regularly contacted by players in Papua New Guinea, searching for a move to an English club. “They contact me and say ‘is there anything there’?” he said.

“I just want to help, to give them a chance. I ask them to send a video, then I can pass it on. One guy messaged me this week saying he’s going to send me a video – but he’s been saying that for two years! He’s a prop, not a bad player.

“Stanley Gene (coach at Newcastle Thunder) has brought a few players over and given them a chance and they are doing well. It’s only the third tier comp’, but it’s a start.”

Meanwhile, Aiton is expecting a tough game tonight when Rhinos – aiming to bounce back from the loss at home to Warrington six days ago – visit Huddersfield Giants.

“It’s a very big game,” Aiton said. “We beat them earlier in the year and that will give us confidence, but each week could go either way if you don’t put in the hard yards.

“Any team could win on their day, so you have to go out there and play well. I don’t think we were up to our standards at all last week, so we’ve got to try and put that right.

“We’ve been working on the little things that need to be fixed, so it’s actually good – it has given us things to work on.”

Rhinos led Giants 18-0 early on in the round three clash at Headingley and Aiton feels a good start is important again tonight.

Leeds blew St Helens away in the first half a fortnight ago, but the situation was reversed by Warrington last Friday and Aiton said: “The game these days is so tough, you have to start well. Otherwise you are just fighting to get back into it. It can be done, but it’s extremely tough and it takes a lot out of you.”

Aiton’s form this year was rewarded with the April player of the month award.

He said: “I was really pleased and happy, because it’s voted for by the fans.”