Leeds Rhinos are looking to the future as they aim to back up their 2022 run to the Betfred Super League Grand Final, and prop forward Mikolaj Oledzki couldn’t be more excited by the influx of youth players in their squad ahead of the 2023 season.
The Rhinos made a blistering burst into the play-offs following the arrival midway through the season of coach Rohan Smith, who took them from 11th to fifth and then led them past Catalans Dragons and Wigan Warriors in elimination fixtures before losing the Old Trafford showpiece to St Helens.
Now Smith has backed the likes of Jarrod O'Connor, Toby Warren, Leon Ruan, Joe Gibbons, Alfie Edgell, Riley Lumb and Jack Smith by handing them prominent squad numbers for the 28th summer season, and England international Oledzki says Smith’s focus on giving youngsters a chance has injected a great deal of confidence into the squad as they look to go one better in 2023.
“Rohan’s great, bringing young players through creates a lot of belief in players that they can go and express themselves on the field,” he tells The Sportsman. “The young lads coming through are all great players, they just need someone to show them that belief and back them, and Rohan’s great at that. I think he really enjoys it himself, seeing young players play well and really enjoy themselves.
“He’s brought different things into the camp that most of us have never done before, and it’s great because it’s fresh and everyone’s really bought into what Rohan and the coaching staff are trying to bring in.”
Oledzki inisists that a settled squad under Smith should benefit from some stability after a rollercoaster ’22 on the back of Richard Agar’s departure.
“It’s pretty strange looking back at last season because it was like the games at the start weren’t in the same season as the games at the end, just because it felt so much different. There was so much going on off the pitch it was all a blur in a certain way.”
The Gdansk-born forward is still recovering from shoulder surgery, making this an unusual pre-season on a personal level. But while he may miss the February 16 season opener against Warrington Wolves, Oledzki says he’s still buzzing to get the campaign underway.
“I’m not sure whether I’ll be available for the first game or not but I won’t be far off it,” he adds. “The build-up is a bit different this year for me compared to the usual pre-season, but that doesn’t change anything, I’m more excited than ever and hungrier than ever to get back to the Grand Final and come out with a different outcome.
“Getting to the Grand Final last year was a great achievement for us as a team but also it was frustrating because we knew we could have done better.”