Pole position - Mikolaj Oledzki vows to keep improving after moving up Leeds Rhinos pecking order
History-maker Mikolaj Oledzki says Leeds Rhinos are a team with a point to prove this year.
Last October, Oledzki became the first Polish-born Challenge Cup winner when Rhinos beat Salford Red Devils at Wembley to end a three-year trophy drought.
That alone made it a successful season, but hopes of a double were dashed by defeat to Catalans Dragons in the opening round of the play-offs and the Gdansk-born England Knights prop reckons that still hurts.
He admitted: “We were very frustrated with ourselves, getting into the play-offs and falling at the first hurdle.
“Even though we were happy getting the Challenge Cup, it was a bit of a bitter finish to the season.
“We knew we were better than that, we should have played better and given ourselves a chance at reaching the Grand Final.
“It is something we are using as fuel and motivation for this year, to be better and not be in that situation again.
“Our targets are to be consistent, play well and the rest of it will take care of itself.”
Rhinos begin their Betfred Super League campaign against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley on Saturday, ending a pre-season which has stretched over almost three full months.
After training for so long, Oledzki admitted they are keen to test themselves against outside opposition.
“There’s a lot of excitement at the moment, with the first game around the corner,” he said.
“There’s a few injuries and we had a two-week Covid break which wasn’t ideal, but we have come out on the other side.
“We are fit, healthy, strong and ready to play.
“Everyone’s eager to get on on the field and get playing again after a long break.”
Oledzki made his Rhinos debut in 2017 and has moved up the squad order this year to take jersey number eight, underlining his status as one of their first-choice forwards, at the age of just 22.
He played more games, 20, than anyone else in the squad last year, but feels he can - and has to - be better this season.
He insisted: “The main goal is to play the same amount of games, hopefully all the games if everything goes right, but just be more consistent with my performances, be good every game and not have the odd blip in my performances.
“That is the main goal for this year, for myself personally.”
Playing alongside Cook Islands and New Zealand Test prop Zane Tetevano should help Oledzki’s game.
The Hunslet Warriors product was a late starter in rugby league and is relishing teaming up with the vastly-experienced former NRL Grand Final winner.
“I have already learned a lot from Zane, especially the little things you never really think of,” he said.
“I took a really close look at my game, using the stuff he has taught me that he has learned over in the NRL and I am trying to improve my game using that.
“He has been a massive help to me and I know everyone else.
“I am going to benefit massively from having Zane and Matty [Prior, Rhinos’ player of the year last season] next to me.
“I feel I am quite fortunate.”