By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
St George Illawarra winger Euan Aitken has expressed his desire to play for Scotland at the season-ending Four Nations tournament.
Beating out Peter Mata’utia to be named on the wing for the Dragons’ season opener against the Storm the 20-year-old is grateful to put his stamp on the NRL from the get-go in name of his representative aspirations.
A relative unknown 12 months ago Aitken thrived in first grade last season, his 23 games leaving him in a completely different head space for the year ahead.
"There are different options for me this year with Scotland because I’m eligible for them so it’s definitely something I’m working towards," Aitken said.
"They have named an extended squad for the Four Nations and have told me they are taking it very seriously, not taking things lightly, because they are up against the best three teams in the world."
Using teammate Tyson Frizell as inspiration – the back-rower played five Tests for Wales between 2011 and 2013 – Aitken is hoping a Scotland berth will position him for higher honours closer to home.
"That’s exactly why I’m doing it. I think it’s a good stepping stone for me to be put up against the best players in the world in that sort of concept. If you play the best players, you’re going to get better eventually," Aitken said.
"Tyson has done that. Now he’s had that international taste he’s a fringe player for New South Wales and I think he’ll play Origin this year."
First and foremost though the challenge remains in Aitken’s shift to the wing, the Merimbula/Pambula Bulldogs junior set to partner Josh Dugan on the right edge.
Aitken’s shift to the wing means he’ll take a team-oriented approach after overcoming his initial disappointment when Tim Lafai signed.
"It’s keeping you honest and you have to be honest. It makes you work harder to get every single edge you can. [When Lafai signed] I’ll be honest it got me down a little bit but the club is doing a good thing there by getting more depth," Aitken said.
"We struggled last year with injuries too, so I was down a little bit there for a while before realising it’s a good challenge and it’s healthy for the club. It’s definitely made me a better player. It’s best for the team for me to play on the wing at the moment.
"It’s showing I’m a bit more versatile as a player so it’s only going to build to better things going forward. I want to play centre in the future, it’s where I see myself, but it’s been a good pre-season which has given me the opportunity I have now."