Gateshead sign NRL Grand Final winner

James Gordon

Gateshead Thunder have pulled off a massive coup with the signing of former Melbourne Storm half back Russ Aitken.

Aitken is currently playing for Carcassonne in the French Elite League, but will join up with Thunder on June 1 subject to visa clearance on an 18-month contract.

He made 10 appearances for Storm in two years in Melbourne, including the 2008 NRL Grand Final and Semi Final and the 2008 World Club Challenge against Leeds.

Aitken, who has also played in the NRL for Cronulla Sharks, said:  “I am really looking forward to joining Gateshead Thunder. It was a big decision to leave France. I have had a successful spell with AS Carcassonne, but I was impressed with the vision that Thunder have shown and I want to be part of a successful Thunder over the next 2 seasons and hopefully beyond that. The French cup final and the NRL Grand Final and World Club Challenge Final with Melbourne Storm have been obvious highlights of my career and I hope to repeat those achievements with Gateshead Thunder.”

Aitken was spotted playing for Carcassonne away at Limoux at the beginning of the year while Thunder Head Coach Chris Hood and Chief Executive Rod Findlay were on a scouting mission.

Hood said: “I am delighted that we have been able to secure Russ’ signature. He is a real quality player and there can’t be many Thunder players who have played in the NRL Grand Final and World Club Challenge. Russ will bring vital experience to the squad.

“The Board and in particular, Steve and Sarah Garside, have been fantastic in supporting recommendations for the squad and I thank them for finding room in the budget to sign Russ. Importantly, Russ has signed for this season and 2010 and joins a group of players who are already committed to Thunder for the next 2 seasons.”

Thunder have already signed three players from the French Elite League who will join up with the squad alongside Aitken – Pia trio Nick Youngquest, Paul Franze and Kris Kahler.