Leeds Rhinos' Mikolaj Oledzki hails new-look squad, predicts big improvement in 2024 Super League
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Oledzki played 22 games for Rhinos last term. After sitting out the first six matches, as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, he was ever-present for the rest of the campaign, but withdrew from possible England contention to face Samoa in the autumn Test series on medical grounds.
His form in 2021 and 2022 earned him back-to-back Rhinos player of the year awards and he accepts he didn’t reach those standards last season, but the 25-year-old powerhouse feels revitalised following a six-week break and is upbeat about his and the new-look squad’s prospects for 2024.
On a personal note, he admitted: “I was struggling a bit throughout the year. I struggled getting my form back and I felt like mentally and physically I really needed some time off to do some rehab and some things to benefit me and help me get back to full fitness and a place where, mentally, I want to be going into pre-season. I feel like I got that.”
Oledzki suffered shoulder damage in Rhinos’ 2022 play-off win at Catalans Dragons and had an operation a year ago, which meant he didn’t have a full pre-season ahead of the 2023 campaign. With that behind him, he believes he will be better prepared going into next year.
“Coming back from shoulder surgery, I wanted to get back so bad, but it probably affected me more than I thought,” he reflected. “Now I have had six weeks [away from rugby] and I managed to go away with my family, which was nice, because it was a stressful year.
“I’ve reset and when I got back I went straight into my own training - rehab and strengthening things and making sure my body was 100 per cent when I came back on day one. I feel great at the moment, I feel strong, I feel fit and I am really enjoying pre-season so far.”
Rhinos are into their second week of preparations, with most of the squad having been there from day one. Star signings Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers both met their new teammates for the first time on Monday and Oledzki reckons, with some stalwarts having moved on and fresh faces in their place, it “feels like a new start”.
He said: “We have had a fair few departures and also a lot of great additions coming in, a lot of great lads who fit in well and are going to bring a lot of positive things to our team, on and off the field.
“That’s what you want, you want to build a good, solid culture and I think we’ve got that perfectly this year. We’ve got a great bunch of guys.
“We’ve had a few sessions discussing what we want and how we want things to look and it has been good to be back. The feeling around the place is spot on and it’s only going to get better, I think.”
Rhinos begin their pre-season campaign against Wakefield Trinity at AMT Headingley on Boxing Day. Betfred Super League fixtures are due to be published next week and Oledzki stressed: “In pre-season every team thinks they are going great and everyone looks sharp on the field because no one’s carrying any knocks or hit any adversity yet.
“It is easy to say everything’s great, but I have been at Leeds for a fairly long time now and last year was super-disappointing. I was disappointed in myself and, like the rest of us, with how we ended the season, not making the play-offs.
“But the feeling we’ve got at the moment, I’ve not had that in a long time. Everyone wants to get things right, everyone’s eager to learn and wants to do extras. Everyone’s hungry to get back to the top and to do well, which is what you want.
“Nothing is won in pre-season, but you want to get that feeling and to have everyone on the same page, with everyone working their socks off and nobody just going through the motions. That is exactly what we’ve got.
“Every day everyone is absolutely gassed from training so hard all day and that’s what you want. We have some very good, world-class additions to the team who are going to bring the best out of all of us, so it is very exciting.”