POLISH-BORN FRONT-ROWER Mikolaj Oledzki is an example of the sort of rugby league talent waiting to be unearthed in Leeds, Rhinos veteran Jamie Jones-Buchanan reckons.
The former England man is working with ex-Rhinos star Chev Walker to introduce new players to the sport and believes there are potential stars out there, if clubs know where to look.
“I have 20 years’ experience playing rugby league for this great club and I am trying to use that experience to help the game, support it and encourage other people to play it,” said Jones-Buchanan, who is a trustee of the Rhinos Foundation and chairs its rugby league development plan sub-committee.
“We want to get to the kids in places in Leeds where they don’t play rugby league. There are good kids out there – people like Mikolaj.”
Oledzki was born in Gdansk and had never heard of rugby league before moving to Leeds as a schoolboy.
He has made rapid progress, representing England academy in 2016, making his Rhinos debut this year and creating a big impression on loan at Bradford Bulls and dual-registration with Featherstone Rovers.
Jones-Buchanan said: “It was half-term last week and we invited kids via posters in schools and leaflets to come to a talent identification camp and we got 48 girls and 24 boys.
“Two African girls came up and said ‘what’s rugby league’?
“I don’t know if it’s got anything to do with Britain’s Got Talent, but these youngsters have got something to give and they are not as bothered what the platform is – they think ‘I am going to try that, I might enjoy it’ and they come and find they really like it.
“Mikolaj is a great example and he goes to show what potential there is in that demographic – big, strong European people who suit this game down to the ground.”
Leeds is a hotbed of rugby league, but Jones-Buchanan said there are areas of the city where the sport is not played.
“Chev is doing work in places like Chapeltown, which don’t have a rugby league club,” he said.
“There’s schools there that consistently win athletics competitions, through people maybe with a Caribbean background who have fast-twitch muscle fibres and are very athletic and would be fantastic in a game like rugby league, but have never had an opportunity to play.
“Chev has got a test that he does that’s really specific to rugby league and the skills involved and, hopefully, there’ll be some kids that’ll come and get involved and maybe go on to a career in rugby league.
“There’s a lot goes on in community clubs that’s fantastic, but schools are somewhere that’s untapped and we’ve gone away from.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos will be close to full-strength when they visit Wakefield Trinity on Saturday in a Betfred Super League derby four-pointer.
Full-back Ashton Golding has been named in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad after missing the past two games due to a hamstring problem. Back-rower Stevie Ward is set to return from a one-match ban, and only centre Jimmy Keinhorst – out since April with a hand injury – and Brett Delaney, who suffered damage to both knees against Warrington two weeks ago, remain on Rhinos’ casualty list.