THREE OF Leeds Rhinos’ top young prospects are on course to represent their country against the best in the game.
Winger Ryan Jones, 18, prop Mikolaj Oledzki and fellow 17-year-old loose-forward Cameron Smith are part of the England academy squad which jetted to Australia two days ago to begin a four-week long tour.
For Wakefield-born Jones, the ticket to Australia was a welcome surprise after he missed March’s warm-up Test against France.
“About a week after the France game I got a phone call to say I had got selected to go to Australia,” he said. “I was over the moon. I was out for seven weeks, I injured ligaments in my ankle against Bradford, played two games after that and then got selected for England. It was a shock and a surprise, but a good one.”
Jones admitted: “The main goal I’ve had since I started playing rugby was to get on the England tour. It has happened in a short period of time. I have not been playing since I was five years old, like most of the other lads. I only started playing when I was 12 and I didn’t really enjoy it! I went back to playing football, but I started playing rugby properly with my school team when I was 13.”
England’s youngsters face Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Sports Complex on Saturday and visit Pepper Stadium to take on Penrith Panthers a week later.
The first Test will be played a Dolphin Oval, Redcliffe, on Sunday, July 31 and the tour concludes with a second showdown against the Aussie schoolboys at Southern Cross Group Stadium six days after that.
England have been building towards this month since their previous academy tour to Australia four years ago and Jones – who started playing rugby at Normanton Knights before switching to Oulton Raiders –said: “Hopefully I am able to do my job and get a few tries and we can win all the games. That’s the goal, but we know how tough it is going to be – I am going to prepare for the toughest games of my career.”
The tour is Jones’ latest step towards his ultimate goal of a full-time Super League contract, preferably at Leeds. He said: “Hopefully this will stand me in good stead. It is a good thing to have on my cv.”
Oledzki – who joined Rhinos from Hunslet Warriors after starting at East Leeds – has already ticked that box after signing a five-year contract with Rhinos before linking up with England for the current tour. He is also a late-starter having taken up rugby league only five years ago, three years after moving to this country.
“Everything has happened really quickly,” said Oledzki, who aims to be the first Polish-born player to appear in Super League.
“It’s not long ago I was training at East Leeds and wondering what to do. I’ve signed a five-year contract with Leeds and this [the tour] is the next step.”
Oledzki is relishing having a crack at Australia’s best young forwards. He said: “I have always wanted to play in Australia and see what it feels like to play against their big boys. It is going to be a good experience, it will be good to test ourselves and see how we go. From the previous Test against France and how we’ve looked in training, I have no doubts we can beat them.”
Smith, a product of the Lock Lane club in Castleford, has already made his senior debut, having come off the bench in Rhinos’ Super League defeat at Huddersfield Giants in April. He is a contender to captain the tour squad, after doing the job at youth and under-16 level. This is his third trip to Australia in as many years, but he admitted representing his country against the old enemy will be the highlight of his career so far.
“The games is massive in Australia,” he said. “In the NRL it’s unbelievable how skilful they are and how well they play. It will be interesting to see how we look against them and how our under-19s competition compares to their Holden Cup under-20s.”