2018 has been, for the most part at least, a year to forget for Catalans Dragons – but Paul Aiton can see light at the end of the tunnel.
As the Dragons prepare for a potentially season-defining game at Magic Weekend on Sunday against eighth-placed Salford, the Papua New Guinean believes that in recent weeks, Les Dracs have begun to turn a corner which could prove pivotal for their season.
Yes, they remain bottom of Super League; but they are in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup and, if they can beat Salford this weekend, the gap to the eight would just be two points: and Catalans would have a game in hand on Salford.
The enormity of the occasion is not lost on Aiton, who admits to TotalRL: “It’s a huge game for both teams. It’s going to be a high-quality game because both teams need it so much – it’s on the world stage and it should bring the best out of both sides.”
With recent performances hinting at a turnaround in fortunes under Steve McNamara, Aiton also believes there is still no need to panic despite the Dragons’ precarious position at the foot of the table.
“I think things are turning,” he said.
“We had a lot of changes in the off-season but I think things are slowly starting to improve. Losing Luke Walsh was big for us, but Josh Drinkwater has come in and fit in really well. He’s a good player and I think you’re going to see things really pick up with us now. All the blokes are great and the mood is fine, but Josh coming in has given us a real lift and filled that gap left by Walshy. He was exactly what we needed.
“It can get worrying with the losses we’ve had, but we have to look at the league table and keep remembering we’re only a few wins off being in that eight pretty comfortably again. We’re holding onto that and focusing on that.”
Aiton is also hopeful that the backdrop of Magic Weekend will bring the best out of the Dragons on Sunday.
He said: “As a player, you try to focus on the game and nothing else but here at Magic, there’s definitely a different feel to proceedings. You get a little bit more nervous when you play on the big stage like this and it brings out the best in you.
“I look forward to it – it’s such a great innovation and the rest of the world should be looking to follow suit. All the eyes of rugby league are on you and you can’t want anything more than that.”