Pressure off works as Leeds Rhinos’ Mikolaj Oledzki relishing England Test bow
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The powerful front-row – still aged just 23 – is set to make his bow off the bench in Saturday’s game against France in Perpignan.
It is a reward for some excellent and consistent displays for his West Yorkshire club where he has become such an integral part of Richard Agar’s squad.
Playing in such a demanding position, though, at the unforgiving coalface and expected to undertake so much hard graft in defence and attack, you would expect him to be constantly challenging himself.
However, Oledzki, who was born in Poland but moved to the UK at nine-years-old, feels his development to the point where he has caught the eye of national coach Shaun Wane is, in part, down to a more relaxed approach in 2021.
“I really wanted to enjoy my rugby this year and not put as much pressure on getting everything right,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s about understanding that I still have things to learn and understanding that I am going to make some mistakes and get some things wrong.
“It’s realising it’s all about learning and going in the right direction; that allowed me to enjoy my rugby a bit more and made sure I really enjoyed it.
“I really did enjoy playing every week and found myself going in the right direction: progressing.”
And charging forward. Oledzki has certainly proved one of Super League’s most destructive forwards and that presence – he stands at six foot three inches and weighs more than 17 stones – will be crucial against France.
The hosts are growing in confidence given Catalans Dragons’ march to a maiden Grand Final and Toulouse Olympique’s promotion into Super League.
But Rhinos academy product Oledzki is relishing the chance to showcase his talents, especially after missing two months of action following surgery on a foot issue in August.
“That was gutting for me as it stopped my progress and stopped me from getting to where I wanted to be in terms of my very top form,” he explained.
“There was a chance I wasn’t going to play again this year.
“So, to come back for the last two (Rhinos) games and get this opportunity now is massive for me. It’s going to be an exciting game; it’s always a good occasion over there, especially representing England.
“It’s a massive honour and I always love representing England: I’m always grateful.
“It will be a tough fixture, like it always is in France, and they have some lively fans so it should be exciting.”
Oledzki, of course, did make his England ‘debut’ against the Combined Nations All Stars in June but that game was not classed as an official Test match.
Wane, a former prop himself who is renowned for his tough attitude, liked what he saw from the robust but athletic front-row.
Oledzki – who will look to make the most of his chance with NRL props Tom Burgess and Luke Thompson unavailable – has enjoyed working with the former Wigan Warriors chief in camp at Salford this week.
He said: “It’s good. He really likes all the tough stuff and getting all the small things right.
“That is good as sometimes, playing week in week out, you don’t always get the chance to concentrate on the small stuff.
“It’s great to get that emphasis, be squeaky clean and try to better ourselves every time we get on the field and learn new things as middles.”
As expected given his stellar form again this term, St Helens prop Alex Walmsley starts for England and Oledzki – a Challenge Cup winner with Leeds last year – conceded: “He is great.
“He’s probably the best middle in the comp’ and it’s great to have him next to me and learn off him as well as all the middles – Mike Cooper, Joe Philbin, Morgan Knowles and Matty Lees.
“I always try to learn new things from other players and pick things up for my own game.
“We look to work together and it’s great to be around these lads; they are world-class players.”
Cooper starts as the other prop with Knowles at loose forward and Oledzki and Philbin due to enter the fray from the replacements as England tackle their only Test of the season before next year’s delayed World Cup.
Rhinos hooker Kruise Leeming will also make his England debut from the bench but Wakefield Trinity’s Reece Lyne has been preferred to uncapped Harry Newman, the Leeds centre who may also now not travel to France due to a slight injury.