ENGLAND KNIGHTS prop Mikolaj Oledzki cut his first team teeth at Bradford Bulls and is relishing today’s opportunity to show his old club how far he has come in the past three seasons.
Now 20, Oledzki’s initial taste of senior rugby was during a loan spell with tomorrow afternoon’s Coral Challenge Cup sixth round hosts two years ago.
He became an Odsal fans’ favourite during 20 appearances – 17 of them as a substitute – and since then has arguably made more rapid progress than any other player in the top-flight, earning a call-up to England’s second string at the end of last year.
A try scorer on his Leeds debut, in a 2017 Challenge Cup win over Doncaster, he now has 38 senior appearances for Rhinos under his belt and has missed only two of their 15 competitive games this term.
The experience gained during his time at Bradford, playing against much older, seasoned professionals, was invaluable and Oledzki recalled: “That was my first season in the first team and my first experience of first grade rugby.
“Individually I enjoyed it. We didn’t have the best season due to all the stuff going on off the field, but it was good to get 20 games under my belt there.
We need to prove to ourselves and to everybody else what we are capable of.Mikolaj Oledzki
“It is a great club, I enjoyed my time there and I am thankful for the opportunity.”
Bulls have had a major turnover of players since then, having been relegated to League One and bounced straight back at the first attempt.
“A few of the young lads I played with are still there,” Oledzki said.
“It is a big game and I think we have a lot to prove.
“We need to prove to ourselves and to everybody else what we are capable of.
“With everything going on at the moment we are even more determined and motivated to start putting results on the board and start performing as a team.
“Hopefully we can get results and progress further on in the Challenge Cup as well as start building some form in Super League.”
A dismal run of just four wins in 14 league games – plus a big victory over Workington Town in the previous Cup round – led to coach Dave Furner’s departure being announced on Tuesday, only six months into a three-year contract.
Rhinos, who will be coached by interim boss Richard Agar tomorrow, have shown flashes of good rugby, particularly in the first half of recent home games against Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR, but have struggled for consistency, from week to week and even in matches.
“I think the problem isn’t with attack and scoring points,” said Oledzki, who was the second Polish-born player to feature in Super League.
“We are scoring points every game, that is not an issue for us.
“It is conceding 20-plus points per game which gets us and lets us down.
“I think it’s not individual stuff, it’s just working together as a team and not trying to fix stuff up on our own.
“It’s about having that togetherness in the team and working for each other and playing as a team.
“I think if we start doing that and improve on it we will get better as a team defensively and we can start getting results.”
Still very young for a top-flight front-rower, Oledzki – who didn’t play rugby until his teens – has been a shining light among the gloom for Rhinos.
“I think I am improving,” he said.
“I am playing more minutes and getting through a bit more work than I did before.
“I am learning my trade as a prop-forward and I am learning off my mistakes.
“I still do mistakes every week, whether it’s defensively or in my offense, but every week I try to take a lesson out of my performance.
“Whether it’s a big one or just a touch up I try to come out of every game with a lesson learned.
“At the moment I am quite happy with my progress and I just want us to be good as a team.
“That is the main target.”
A run in the Cup could give Rhinos the confidence needed to climb the league ladder.
“That is a big aim for us,” Oledzki admitted.
“We didn’t start well in Super League, but that’s the great thing about the Cup.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in Super League, everybody has the same shot in the Challenge Cup.
“Hopefully we can build on that and get into the quarters, the semis and the final.”