Leeds Rhinos star Mikolaj Oledzki keen to improve - despite squad number promotion
Big prop Mikolaj Oledzki is focusing on quality as well as quantity this season.
Oledzki was the big climber when Rhinos announced their 2021 squad numbers last week, moving from 19 to eight.
That was reward for an impressive campaign last year when he made more appearances, 20, than any other Leeds player; claimed his first major silverware, as a starting front-rower in Rhinos’ Coral Challenge Cup final win over Salford Red Devils at Wembley and secured a new long-term contract, keeping him at Leeds until the end of 2024.
The 22-year-old made a try-scoring debut in a Cup win over Doncaster in 2017 and, despite spending time on loan at Bradford Bulls the following year, has now played 67 times for Rhinos, as well as being capped by England at Academy and Knights level.
That is impressive progress for someone who did not touch a rugby ball until his teens, after moving with his family from Poland to Leeds, but Oledzki insists he is far from the finished article and is looking to go up another level when the new season kicks off in March.
“One thing to improve on is consistency,” Oledzki pledged.
“Playing a lot of games is one thing, but playing well consistently in all of them is another.
“I had some good games and I had some bad games during those 20 games last year and I think this year my aim is to be consistent and to do the small things right and not give Rich [Agar, Rhinos’ coach] anything to pick me up on.
“I will try to be as good as I can be, week-in and week-out.”
The squad number promotion suggests OIledzki is now established as one of Rhinos’ first-choice forwards.
Rhinos have signed Zane Tetevano to strengthen their pack for the next three seasons and Agar has confirmed he sees the current New Zealand Test front-rower, player of the year Matt Prior, Oledzki and teenager Tom Holroyd as his four main middles in the forthcoming season.
But Leeds are also looking to bring in another prop and have Bodene Thompson and James Donaldson who can stand in if necessary, so Oledzki is taking nothing for granted.
“I feel like I have got a place in the team, but I can lose that as quickly as I got it if I don’t play well or don’t train well,” he warned.
“I am really happy to be in that position where I have the number eight shirt, but I know I can lose it as quickly as I got it.
“It is all about hard work and being consistent for me from now.”
The number eight spot became vacant when Ava Seumanufagai was released from his contract at Christmas for personal reasons.
Oledzki said: “Kev [Sinfield, Rhinos’ director of rugby] rang me before New Year so it was a nice way to end 2020, on a positive note.
“I did feel like I had a good rugby season last year so it was nice to finish 2020 with Kev ringing me and telling me I’ve got the eight shirt.
“I have been at Leeds since I was 14 or 15, I’ve been through the scholarship and the academy and I know how big these things are and how much they mean to players.
“It was really rewarding for me.”
Rhinos began pre-season training last week and - though Tetevano and Prior have yet to arrive and several players are in rehab following off-season surgery - Oledzki said the early signs have been positive.
“During the first lockdown we were still training and playing, but when we stopped training and playing before Christmas I found it quite tough,” he recalled.
“It was a big change from having a schedule and a routine to not having to do anything, so I was really happy to get back and get going again.
“We had a really good first week and I am looking forward to the rest of it.”
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