PROBABLY NO player in professional rugby league has made more rapid progress than Leeds Rhinos’ young prop-forward Mikolaj Oledzki.
Oledzki already has more than 20 Super League games under his belt, toured Australia with England academy and is currently a member of the Knights squad, one step down from the full national team.
That’s not particularly unusual for a 20-year-old player, but Oledzki was born in Poland, did not move to England until he was nine and spent time living in Northampton before his family finally settled in Leeds and he was tempted to try rugby league. Since then, despite not being steeped in the game, he has emerged as one of this country’s most promising front-row prospects.
“It has been crazy,” said Oledzki, who is not included in the Knights’ 17 for tomorrow’s first Test in Papua New Guinea. “I only started playing five years ago, it is like dreams come true. I could not be more honoured and grateful for recognition and for the opportunity to be involved in this tour.
“Some people don’t get the chance, so I am really happy to be involved.”
The Knights squad have been training in Brisbane ahead of their clash with last year’s World Cup quarter-finalists at Lae. They face Papua New Guinea again in eight days’ time in Port Moresby when players not involved this weekend are likely to be given an opportunity.
Whatever happens, Oledzki said being in the squad is a valuable experience. He added: “You are around top-class players, every player in the squad deserves to be here.
“Everyone is trying to achieve the same thing, which is to reach the top level and play in the England first team. It is great because it is a new experience, I don’t think any of us have been to PNG before and it is good to test yourself in an environment that’s very unknown to you.”
Oledzki played 22 senior games for Rhinos this year as well as featuring three times on dual-registration with Featherstone Rovers and in Leeds’ academy side.
“I never expected to play that many games,” he admitted. “I said to myself at the start of the season I’d be fairly happy if I got five or 10 games.
“Ten games would have been great for me, then after 10 I thought ‘it’s going all right’. I got to 15 and kept progressing and I got more confident on the field and you feel more part of the team.
“You know you are not just in the squad to train, you start to get that feeling of being a part of the team. Leeds Rhinos are a great club with a great history so to wear that jersey is always an honour.”
It has been a long campaign for a player who was involved in last Boxing Day’s opening pre-season match, but he insisted he is still feeling relatively fresh.
His final first team game was away to London Broncos on August 19 and he said: “I didn’t get many games at the end, I was playing for the academy.
“I wasn’t sitting around not doing anything, but I have had a fair amount of time to recover and recharge my batteries and I am ready to go now.”
The England Knights players will have around three weeks off before resuming training with Leeds under new coach Dave Furner. Oledzki said: “It’s going to be great. There’s a lot of changes, positive stuff going on.
“We have got a few new players and it’s good to build again as a team and start afresh.
“Everyone has an equal chance of getting in that team so I am just looking forward to 2019.”