Warriors coach reveals reason behind star's positional switch

Publish Date
Saturday, 6 August 2022, 8:57AM

By Michael Burgess

When Euan Aitken was recruited by the Warriors ahead of the 2021 season, he was brought in as a senior centre, after 121 games for St George-Illawarra.

It was a logical move - as the club lacked depth in that position - but hasn't worked out as expected, with Aitken spending most of his time in the pack.

On Saturday Aitken, who has only played eight of his 31 Warriors matches at centre, will return to his preferred position for the first time since July last year.

He was initially moved to the second row to cover some injuries, which made sense on an short term basis, before the shift seemed to become permanent this year.

It was a brave call by coach Nathan Brown but also risky, as Adam Pompey (34 NRL games at the start of this season) and Jesse Arthars (29 matches) were the most experienced of the other options available, alongside rookies Rocco Berry and Viliami Valea.

Aitken has mostly performed well in the forwards, with his industrious approach but the opportunity cost of the change has been considerable.

The Warriors have had defensive issues all season – only the Gold Coast Titans have conceded more points – and have been particularly vulnerable on the edge, with centre arguably the hardest defensive position in the sport.

When Stacey Jones assumed the interim head coach role, he always planned to restore Aitken to the backs and selected him there for the homecoming match against the West Tigers on July 3.

Some late withdrawals curtailed that plan, but Aitken's switch will finally happen against South Sydney on Saturday.

"I've been wanting to put him back there and just [solidify] our defence," said Jones, who explained that the return of second rowers Jack Murchie and Bailey Sironen from injury had offered the opportunity.

For his part Aitken, 27, is looking forward to more space and time, one spot closer to the flank.

"It's probably the one on one attacking opportunities that you get in the centres," said Aitken, when asked what he has missed the most about playing out wide. "I'm a pretty strong ball runner and I like to beat my defender so I'm excited to get a few more opportunities."

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission