Super League prop considered Ukraine invitation before ‘surprise’ England call-up

Drew Darbyshire
Oliver Wilson Huddersfield Giants England Ukraine Alamy

Oliver Wilson in action for Huddersfield Giants in 2024

Huddersfield Giants prop Oliver Wilson has revealed he had been contacted to represent his Ukrainian heritage on the international stage before receiving a ‘surprise’ call-up by England coach Shaun Wane.

The 24-year-old is one of six potential debutants in Wane’s squad to take on France in Saturday’s Test match in Toulouse.

And Wilson’s backstory is fascinating. He was born and raised in Halifax but qualifies to represent Ukraine through his maternal grandfather, who moved to England shortly after the Second World War.

“My grandad was Ukrainian,” Wilson told Love Rugby League whilst inside the England camp. “He came over after the war and he came over with nothing, so it’s hard to track down (family members) who are over there. I never met him, he passed before I was born but my mum talks about him all the time.

“They (Ukrainian Federation of Rugby League) were actually contacting me before the England thing to play for Ukraine, I think they’ve got some games in October but obviously with this (England) happening I may have to miss it.

“It’s nice to see them do well and try to get a good rugby team together. I think there’s a couple of lads from Australia, I think Nathan Cleary has got Ukrainian heritage and I think Hudson Young from Canberra as well so it’ll be interesting to see if they can get those boys in!”

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Wilson, who has made 91 appearances for Huddersfield since his debut in 2019, has become a key member of Ian Watson’s forward pack in recent years due to his no-nonsense style of play in the middle.

His talent and potential is undoubted, but he admitted he was taken aback when he received the phone call from Wane when the England boss delivered the good news of his call-up whilst the Giants were preparing to face Catalans Dragons in the south of France.

“It was a bit of surprise to be honest,” Wilson recalled with a smile. “I was in Perpignan when he called me on the Friday, I was just sat having a coffee waiting to do a bit of training when he called me and basically said he was going to pick me. I was just over the moon.

“A couple of lads who I was with saw his name pop up on my phone so I couldn’t really hide it! I called my dad first and told him. My family were buzzing for me, they’ll try to come over this week and watch. I think they are going to try and fly on Friday, they were struggling to find flights so I think they are flying from Luton.

“I was a bit nervous coming into camp. I drove over this morning and they are all new faces for me really. Tyler (Dupree) is from Halifax but they are all pretty much new faces. I was a little bit nervous but the lads have all made me feel really welcome, the set-up is great here and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Wilson, who was part of the England Academy side that claimed a 2-0 series win over the Australian Schoolboys in 2018, has this week embarked on his exciting journey of representing his birth nation England, but he is just as proud of his Ukrainian heritage too, and hopes to pull on the yellow and blue jersey of Ukraine in honour of his late grandfather one day, adding: “Yeah definitely, I’d like to.”

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