Resilient Aitken proves he belongs
Dragons young gun Euan Aitken's debut could've panned out completely differently if not for his team's resiliency – and his own.
With his team down 18-0 after 20 minutes against Canberra on Saturday night, a defensive error from the 19-year-old centre saw Raiders pivot Blake Austin go over untouched from a scrum, yet he didn't let that perturb him in the Red V's 22-20 comeback win.
Finishing the game with an impressive 194 metres, 10 tackle breaks and 12 tackles, Aitken was thrilled to get away with a first-up win after learning he'd be making his NRL debut just a day before kick-off.
"There was a bit of adversity there in the first half when I had to overcome a bad defensive read but it was a great buzz to come back and win," Aitken said.
"I didn't let it play too much on my mind though. You have to react to that sort of thing – you can't sit back and worry about it the whole game – you just have to bounce back from it and I thought I did that.
"It was such a great feeling to get out there and see the fans come down to support us. Straight away I was excited [when I found out I was playing]. There were little nerves there – but I just tried to complete the same routine I do each week before I play."
Aitken earned the plaudits of coach Paul McGregor, with the former Australian Test centre rating the Junior Kangaroos's debut as one of the best he's seen.
"I've never seen someone offer so much in a debut than young Euan Aitken. His involvement from the beginning of the game was pure class and I thought for a kid it was a great debut. He has a bright future in the game," McGregor said post-game.
"He has been playing very well in NSW Cup and he did so again [against Canberra]. He's a very powerful runner of the ball."
After earning the "next big thing" tag from Benji Marshall in the pre-season, Aitken has risen above being overlooked for the Dragons' World Club Challenge fixture against Warrington and has promised to only get better now that he's in the side's starting line-up.
"I believed I worked really hard in pre-season to improve my game. Last year I played the whole season on the right side and now I'm playing on the left," Aitken said.
"I wanted to work on that part of my game to become multi-skilled and be able to play on both edges so I think I did that over the pre-season and I was very happy to be out there.
"I've competed all pre-season against men who play in the NRL week-in, week-out and I've aspired to do that myself so I've taken my debut as a little stepping stone and I'm only going to get better from here."