St George Illawarra Dragons centre Euan Aitken says he is relishing the chance to start working on a combination with star recruit Ben Hunt, with the pair set to spend plenty of time alongside each other on the team’s right edge.
With just one dominant half in Gareth Widdop, who favoured the left edge, the Dragons scored a whopping 55 of their tries on the left channel and left edge last season compared to just 25 on the right channel and right edge, according to NRL.com Stats.
Aitken managed just 12 games due to hamstring and shoulder injuries but was responsible for six of those 25 right side tries.
With Hunt coming on board and expected to share the playmaking load 50-50 with Widdop, Aitken – who is also hoping to put his injury woes behind him – is looking to get more involved in attack with Hunt next to him this season.
“So far it looks like Benny Hunt will be on the right and Gaz will be on the left which suits me, they’re both quality players,” Aitken told NRL.com.
“I feel suited more to the right and it’s good Benny Hunt’s there so we can have a bit more consistency. There’s been a fair few halves on the right side of the field [in the past two years] – Drew Hutchison, Benji Marshall, Josh McCrone to name a few so [it’s about] just getting a bit of consistency there.
“Last year because Gareth Widdop was the dominant half so there was a lot more ball down the left but now we’ve got two players that are high calibre that are both going to look up and use their eyes and take it on.
“Benny’s here for the next four or five years so it should be good to work with him over that time. I’m here for at least another three so I can reckon we can really gel together.
“We’ve got ‘Friz’ (right side back-rower Tyson Frizell) there who’s going to be there for a long time as well so our right side is pretty much nailed down which is a good thing. When you get that consistency together I feel like we can be a dominant side.”
Aitken praised Hunt’s incisive running game. “You need a halfback who’s not scared to take on the line and it’s only going to make the side better,” he said.
Hunt told NRL.com that while both he and Widdop would have a licence to roam, he expected to spend the majority of his time on the right edge, where he will also defend next to Aitken.
“He’s a good player Euey, I know playing against him he’s one of the strongest guys to play against and he runs some really good lines,” Hunt said.
“Between him, Friz and I think we’ll have Nighty (Jason Nightingale) on our side as well so the more time we can spend together at training and practising our combinations the better it will be.”
Aitken also provided an update on the epidural he had to try and manage an ongoing hamstring injury, as reported by NRL.com in December.
“It was beneficial. I got improvements in my flexibility which is a good thing,” said Aitken, who remains confident of playing a full season of NRL and featuring in the upcoming trials.
“We’re still trying to tinker with a few things and get a system down with a bit of consistency and I think that will help my body.
“There’s been a lot of changes in programs in the last two years with [Dragons head of athletic performance] Nathan Pickworth taking over. We’ve been doing a lot more speed and intensity and shorter durations with rests. My body’s changing, it’s getting my body used to the different training loads and hopefully once we’ve got that locked in the body will be sweet.
“It’s more adjusting to speed spikes, if I have a higher week of speed the next week is probably a danger area for me.
“It’s not a simple equation, there’s all these different components going into the hamstring. It’s a bit of a curse for me in a sense because I have to keep on top of every one of them and if one is out of whack it can cause problems.”
Aitken admitted it was frustrating having the constant cloud over his preparation while teammates are able to throw themselves straight into a field session without having to worry.
“I like to put a lot of effort into training … I’m pretty diligent on doing my rehab and primer and getting my body ready to run. It is frustrating seeing the other guys just be able to go straight on the field no problems but it’s to do with my genetic make-up. I’m all about power [which puts] my hamstring under tension,” he said.
Aitken believes once he has adjusted to a new training regime he will get some consistent time on field.
“I feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential in my body, I just have to get some consistency,” he said.
“The last six to eight months I missed a lot of footy so I’m itching to get back out there. I want to establish myself as one of the best centres in the comp.”