Leeds Rhinos: Aiton’s ready to step up

Paul Aiton.
Paul Aiton.
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Paul Aiton tells Peter Smith how much he is looking forward to playing for the club – and bumping into No9 rival Rob Burrow again.

LEEDS RHINOS stalwart Rob Burrow and recruit Paul Aiton could be competing for the hooking role this season, but that won’t be the first time they have gone head to head.

Burrow came off worst when the duo clashed heads in a Super League showdown during Aiton’s spell at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

“I think I broke his jaw,” Aiton said. “It was accidental, it wasn’t malicious – it was just one of those things that happens in footy.

“He reminded me about it, so I felt really bad! I went in for a tackle and he is small as well.

“Normally two little guys don’t get into a tackle like that – normally I am tackling around somebody’s waist, but this time it was his head.

“I didn’t know it was that bad until he went off. I know his father through the GMB (trades union) and he told me about it.

“There’s no hard feelings – Rob’s a good guy and he’s been very welcoming.”

Burrow is a specialist half-back, but has often started games at hooker during Brian McDermott’s three seasons in charge of Leeds.

He got the nod to begin the game in the No 9 role when Rhinos thrashed LLeeds Rhinos: Aiton’s ready to step up ondon Broncos in Ryan Bailey’s testimonial match at the end of last month, with Aiton – who had started against Wildcats on Boxing Day, when Burrow was not available – having to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Aiton is waiting to hear which way the coach will go this season. He said: “I am unaware, but I will just go where ever he tells me to go and do what he tells me to do.

“I will just do what I can. I would like to start, but it is up to the coach. I will just do my best and let him choose.

“The last couple of years I have done 80 minutes every game, either at hooker or going to another position and I enjoy that.”

Aiton was at Wakefield for two seasons before joining Leeds in November and has been brought in to tighten up their defence in the middle of the field.

He said: “I’ve settled in really well. I came in the week before Boxing Day and I’ve trained hard since. Pre-season has been really good, I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot. I am just looking forward to the season now.”

Aiton is hopeful Rhinos will be back among the honours this year, after they failed to reach either major final in 2013.

Though capped for his country, the 28-year-old has yet to win any major silverware at club level and that is something he is desperate to put right.

Before last year, Rhinos had reached one or more of the domestic finals every season from 2007 onwards. There is a burning desire in the camp to correct that omission this term, but Aiton accepts winning trophies is getting harder with each campaign.

“It is a pretty tough competition,” he said. “We will have to play our best to do well.

“There is higher expectations at Leeds than Wakefield, but I don’t really think about that.

“I just make sure I do what’s right, show up, train hard and do the best I can. But coming here I want to be competing for honours, that is a big aim.

“I want to play in those big games, but we have got to play really well because there’s a lot of good teams out there.”

Aiton played for Papua New Guinea in last year’s World Cup and is a former captain of his country.

He began his senior career with Penrith Panthers in 2006 and had four seasons there, playing 72 NRL games, before joining Cronulla Sharks.

He turned out 36 times in two years for Cronulla and joined Wakefield ahead of the 2013 campaign. He played 47 matches for Wakefield and was player of the year last season.

Asked how Leeds compares to an NRL outfit, he said: “It is a great club.

“Player welfare is amazing, the set-up is amazing and the people that are involved in the club make it that bit better.

“Everyone’s pitching in and driving together for the same goal. It is really good and it’s definitely one of the best clubs I’ve been at.

“I just want to get started now. Let’s go, let’s hurry up and get there.

“I haven’t been training as long as some of the other boys, but I just want to play now.”

Nathaniel Peteru

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