Just moments after becoming the first Polish-born player to lift the Challenge Cup, Mikolaj Oledzki took time to reflect on his remarkable journey with his family.
None of his family could be at Wembley to share his joy at the Rhinos’ dramatic 17-16 win of course, with the stadium empty bar for a small handful of accredited people.
But that could not temper the emotion of the Oledzskis, who moved to this country when the frontrower was just eight years old with no knowledge of the sport.
“They’re just as over the moon as I am,” Oledzki beamed in the club’s post-match Zoom mixed zone for media.
“As soon as I rang them I had tears in my eyes, I was just so happy.
“For a kid from Poland coming over to England, this doesn’t seem real.
“I’m so grateful to be here and have the opportunity to win this Cup with this amazing club with great people.
“My granddad somehow managed to work his laptop in Poland and get it on.
“My uncles and everyone managed to get the game on and I’m sure they were cheering me on all the way through.
“They’re all so proud of me, and I carried them all into that game.
“I represented my friends and family and my heritage – I wanted to leave everything out there to get the win.
“All credit to the boys, it was just an amazing performance.”
Oledzki was one of eight survivors from the Leeds team dumped out of last year’s Challenge Cup by Championship local rivals Bradford, just days after Richard Agar had taken over from David Furner on a caretaker basis.
At the time the club appeared in turmoil, heading for a relegation battle, and Oledzki says Agar deserves significant credit for his role in turning that situation around.
“What makes this special is how hard we’ve worked and it makes you reflect where we were last year, losing to Bradford,” Oledzki said.
“It was one of the worst losses I’ve experienced in my career.
“Then in a year’s time to come here and win the Challenge Cup is incredible, I can’t believe it. It seems a bit unreal.
“Thinking back to that Bradford game, it was just disappointment because we had a great team already.
“We just didn’t perform well and were too comfortable.
“We came here today (at Wembley) and the press said we were favourites again, but we’ve turned up with the right attitude, knowing that it would be a tough game, and it was.
“Off the field we’ve done a lot of team building to create an atmosphere of hard work, determination and playing for each other.
“I felt that really showed today in the tough periods of the game, it’s what got us through.
“Rich has been huge in that, absolutely huge.
“What he’s done off the field with us has been amazing, building back a strong bond between players and creating a family atmosphere and a willingness to work for each other, no matter what.
“Since he’s come in we’ve gelled so much, and even when we’re not playing our best rugby and are a bit scrappy, like we were today in some periods, that togetherness and brotherhood pulls us through.”
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