Leeds Rhinos prop Mikolaj Oledzki says he’s excited to be part of the club’s next generation of stars ahead of his maiden Challenge Cup Final appearance.
The 22-year-old has been an integral part of the club’s rebuild in recent years and has established himself as one of head coach Richard Agar’s first-choice forwards.
It’s been a rapid rise for the youngster, who will make history on Saturday as the first Poland-born player to appear in a Challenge Cup Final, but he puts that growth down to those around him.
“I’ve become that player that Rich (Agar) can rely on in the middle,” he said. “Playing around big Ava (Seumanufagai), Matt Prior, Rhyse Martin, Adam Cuthbertson – all experienced forwards and players who’ve won Grand Finals – it makes the learning process and my development much easier because I’m around these blokes for most of my time.
“It’s really helped us as young players, as has Rich having belief in us and giving us chances multiple times to prove ourselves.
“I think that’s been the key to success really – having experienced teammates around you as well as a coach that believes in you, and a coaching staff that’s willing to put in that extra effort to help you improve as a player.
“There’s me, Tom Holroyd, Cam Smith in the middle. Kruise (Leeming) is still young. Hopefully what we’ll have is this pack developing and playing together for a long time, and we can build the middle around us.
“We can set that standard in the middle and hopefully keep getting better and win a few finals along the way.
“We’ve got a lot of young players all over the park and it’s exciting to see where we’ll be in a few years’ time.”
Despite his age, Oledzki is already into his fourth season as a professional player and his prominence in the squad now is typified by the fact he’s made the joint-most appearances for Leeds in 2020.
His impressive form has correlated with the Rhinos’ rise back up the Super League pecking order and, as the club look to win their first major trophy since 2017, Oledzki says the key has been a change in mind-set.
“When Rich came into the team last year we weren’t performing well. I think one of the main things he wanted to get right was getting that Leeds Rhinos DNA back into the squad; getting that competitiveness and willingness and determination to win games and trophies.
“What we needed to improve on and get right first is that off-field togetherness and playing for each other. If someone’s not pulling their weight then we have to help each other fix it up.
“We always clean up for each other and I think that’s quite visible on the field and a few times, when we weren’t playing our best rugby, has helped us win games even though we weren’t at 100%.
“I mean, when you play in the league games that togetherness can sometimes clean up for not so good rugby that you play, but I think in the finals you have to turn up.
“There’s no second chances and you have to play your best rugby. It doesn’t matter how much togetherness you have, when you play on the top stage at a final there’s no excuses.
“But we know what it takes to win the game. So we’ve got a big week ahead and we’re definitely sticking together and you’ll see that on Saturday.”