Mikolaj Oledzki’s remarkable rugby league journey hit a new height on Tuesday when he joined Shaun Wane’s England training squad.
The Polish-born front rower only started playing the sport at 13 after his family moved from Gdansk when he was eight. Nine years on, he was one of four players called up by Wane to join his first field session as coach in Leeds.
Rhinos team-mate Kruise Leeming and Huddersfield pair Matty English and Jake Wardle were also added to the group with several players unable to train through injury. And for Oledzki – an England Academy international who lifted the Challenge Cup with Leeds last year – it marked the latest step on his incredible path.
Oledzki, 22, said: “I guess you have to enjoy the journey, you never know where it’s going to take you. I am quite fortunate that in the space of a few years it has taken me this far.
“I’m very grateful but like to think it’s come from hard work and commitment from myself to be the best I can be. Every time I get an opportunity I make the most of it.”
Oledzki admitted he wasn’t sure whether the call from Wane – who was appointed at the start of last year but hadn’t been able to take charge of his squad physically due to Covid – was genuine. Oledzki said: “It was the one of the best phone calls I’ve had in my rugby career. It was a pretty nice surprise – to be honest, I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was somebody having me on.
“We had zoom meetings with Shaun before the season started about what he would like to see from us. He showed us a few clips and a few videos, which areas we need to improve on and what it takes to be that international player.
“That helped us set a few targets to be at that international standard. It was great to get someone else’s point of view too, not just coaches at your club, international coaches, so it was really beneficial to myself.
“I’d like to think that I’m here because I deserve it because of the amount of work I put in. Now I’m here, I’m going to take the opportunity to make the most of it and make sure that I stay in this team and get a place.”
Oledzki’s bid to earn selection for the World Cup in the autumn will also have support from members of his family in Gdansk and Warsaw.
He added: “Everyone is proud of me, everyone wants the best from me. I love them to bits – they’re all behind me and supporting me the best they can.”