WORLD CUP hooker Paul Aiton’s likely return has given Leeds Rhinos a timely boost as they bid to get back on track at Widnes Vikings tomorrow.
The Papua New Guinea and former Wakefield Trinity Wildcats ace is a shock inclusion in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad for tomorrow’s game.
He has not played since Leeds’ home win over London Broncos on March 21. The following week the club announced he would be sidelined for three months due to medication he was taking for an unspecified illness.
The 12-week period was completed two days ago and Aiton has trained fully with the squad this week in preparation for tomorrow’s game.
He said he is feeling good and relishing being back in action and McDermott insisted the return of one of his two injured hookers will give Leeds a massive lift.
“He is likely to feature,” McDermott said. “With Rob Burrow out as well, it has been hard. While there’s some positives in watching young Robbie Ward play and Chris Clarkson has stepped in there and Kev Sinfield has an ability to play No 9 every now and again, to have both of your named nines out is hard.”
After so long on the sidelines, McDermott admitted he isn’t expecting Aiton to be back to his best straight away.
“He has trained right through and he doesn’t carry that much body fat anyway,” the coach said. “He takes care of himself and he is in good nick.
“We don’t fear too much for his fitness. Obviously he has got to get match fit and that’s going to take a number of weeks, a couple or three weeks and we will be careful of the number of questions we ask of him in the first game back.”
Teenage novice Ward has retained his place in tomorrow’s 19 and McDermott said: “He has got better every week.
“He just needed to believe in himself a bit better, especially in defence. He showed last week against Huddersfield that he can mix it and he has done himself a fair few favours.”
Danny McGuire (calf) and Jamie Jones-Buchanan (biceps) are also set to return tomorrow and Carl Ablett is available after suspension.
McDermott said: “That is good, we are all very grateful Jonesy is back. We want him to make some tackles and do some carries – play his game the way he normally does.
“We have missed Jonesy and it is good to have Magsy and Carl back as well. It is tough, especially when you lose a pivot.
“Last week we didn’t play with our starting nines, our full-back and three of our back-rowers, as well as Magsy.
“Having some of them back alters things around and we are starting to look something like again. Every team has their injury runs and we’ve had to manage ours as well.”
McDermott insisted he has no concerns about bringing players back from injury on Widnes’ controversial artificial surface.
Rhinos are desperate to get back to winning ways tomorrow, after three defeats in their last four First Utility Super League games.
McDermott felt his side improved in last week’s 24-22 loss to Huddersfield Giants and he said: “The two weeks before that we were massively off and there was enough in last week for us to think there was some improvement.
“But again, there were a number of areas we need to fix up as well. In terms of performance it was encouraging and better than the previous two weeks.
“Certainly the players showed they are caring and they are emotionally still putting their guts into each performance.
“But there’s things to work on and we’ve got a number of games now before we get to a really important game in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington.
“In this next few games we have got to get better and make sure we are in better shape by the time we get to that Challenge Cup semi-final.”
McDermott said it is important Rhinos begin to build some momentum.
“Momentum isn’t from tries scored,” he stated. “It is more about saving tries and preventing line breaks and having good systems around marker and the ruck defensively - some of those things you can carry from week to week and we have normally been very good at this year.
“Just recently we have dropped off and it’s something we need to get back on top of.”
Widnes are also in a slump and have suffered two heavy defeats in just over a week, but McDermott warned: “They are a threat.
“They have genuinely added to the competition and it’s good to see the squad they have got really is competing with every team in Super League.
“They have had a bit of a blip recently and two bad results, but I am sure they will be very good and we are getting ready for a very good Widnes side over there.”
Rhinos under-19s face Widnes in a curtain-raiser tomorrow (12.30pm).