A SEEMINGLY never-ending succession of fitness woes has made this a tough season for Leeds Rhinos, but the injury cloud has a silver lining.
Rhinos were without nine senior players for their Challenge Cup quarter-final win over Leigh Centurions and another three were hurt during the game.
That put added pressure on the teenage trio of full-back Jack Walker, prop Mikolaj Oledzki and back-rower Cameron Smith, but all three impressed and the last scored his first Leeds try.
They have made 34 first-team appearances between them this year. Walker, 18, is already a Grand Final winner, but 19 year olds Oledzki and Smith, both England academy internationals, are emerging alongside him as among the most promising prospects in the European game.
Oledzki had more time on the field than expected in the Cup tie after Leeds were reduced to one available substitute, but coach Brian McDermott – himself a former Test front-rower – felt the youngster came through with flying colours.
“I have been really impressed with him,” he said of the Polish-born player, who did not begin playing rugby league until his teens.
“He is managing some tired moments. It is okay when you’re on top and you slide a young, big fella into your team.
“But you find out what they are truly like in adversity and when you’re on the back foot.
“There were some tough moments for Mikolaj out there and he pushed through them.”
McDermott added: “Even though some of the losses we’ve been having this year are heartbreaking, there have been some positives.
“Cameron Smith has been experiencing some moments and he has been getting better and Jack Walker was brilliant [on Friday].
“He’s everything you want out of a full-back.”