HE IS one of the fastest-improving players in a Betfred Super League squad, but Leeds Rhinos teenager Mikolaj Oledzki insists he will be starting from scratch next season.
Often perceived as a relative newcomer to the game, the giant Polish-born prop made massive strides in 2017 and is already being tipped as a future England Test star.
He was one of the first batch of Rhinos players to begin pre-season training last month and says he has to make the most of every minute as he aims to rise up the first-team pecking order.
“It is my first real full-time pre-season so it is good to get the experience of it and how it all looks and to train with some people who have done more than 10,” Oledzki said.
“It is good to be in that environment and develop as a young player, get fitter, get stronger and hopefully get ready to play some first-team games.”
A year ago Oledzki had yet to make a senior appearance.
He now has three games for Rhinos under his belt, plus two on dual-registration with Featherstone Rovers and 20 from a loan spell at Bradford Bulls.
Leeds and Great Britain legend Adrian Morley, who was Rhinos’ academy boss last season, is among those predicting a big future for the 6ft 3ins, 16st 7lbs powerhouse, but at 19, he has time on his side and his main focus is on learning the ropes as a member of an elite squad.
Oledzki’s form in the Championship last term guarantees there will be no shortage of offers if Rhinos decide he needs more game time elsewhere, but he reckons his destiny is in his own hands.
“It is all about progressing as a player,” stressed Oledzki, who is already an England academy international.
“For now, I don’t know what’s going to happen next year.
“Hopefully if I train well and I perform well in the pre-season games I can get a few chances, but, for now, I am just concentrating on developing myself and getting to a stage where I am fit enough and strong enough to play first grade.
“There’s been no conversation about me going anywhere; for now I am at Leeds and I am fighting to get a spot for a few games.”
Oledzki took up rugby league after moving to England eight years ago.
He played for East Leeds and Hunslet Warriors as a junior, was quickly brought into Leeds’ system and signed a five-year contract with Rhinos in 2016.
“I can’t really believe how fast it has all happened, but for next year it is an open road and anything can happen,” Oledzki added.
“I could be going out on loan or I could be playing first grade.
“Whatever it is, as long as I am playing rugby and I am making steps forward that’s the main thing.”
Oledzki has been named among the substitutes for the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge at Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day.
Rhinos have lost their last two Christmas fixtures and Wakefield will have home advantage this year due to building work at Emerald Headingley, making next week Leeds’ first away Boxing Day game since 1994.
Both coaches have named a strong squad and Oledzki, who did not feature in the 30-6 defeat 12 months ago, reckons the derby in six days’ time will be a useful measure of how the first two months of pre-season have gone.
“It can be a test for individuals as well as a team,” he predicted. “Getting good minutes on Boxing Day is important for me because I want to test myself and see what progress I have made and where I am, as well as how the boys have progressed in pre season.
“It will be good to see the new faces, as well, in the team.
“They are raring to go, so it’ll be exciting.”