Leeds Rhinos ace Mikolaj Oledzki makes Rob Burrow admission, discusses taking TV criticism ‘personally’

Louis Chapman Coombe
Mikolaj Oledzki

Mikolaj Oledzki pictured in action for Leeds during their Round 15 victory against Leigh Leopards at Headingley as the Rhinos paid tribute to Rob Burrow

Leeds Rhinos prop Mikolaj Oledzki believes his side channelled their emotion into a performance worthy of honouring club legend Rob Burrow – before admitting they have taken criticism from pundits ‘personally’.

Friday night’s 18-10 victory against Leigh Leopards marked the first game at Headingley since the passing of Burrow on June 2, and was also the first game since the exit of head coach Rohan Smith, who departed ‘by mutual consent’ on Wednesday.

All of those emotions at once would undoubtedly have been hard to contend with, but Oledzki feels the Rhinos managed that well during their win against the Leopards, with an outpouring of emotion from many players come the final hooter.

“We spoke about trying to control our emotions. We knew it was going to be a big occasion for the club and for everyone involved in rugby league,” he told Love Rugby League.

“We knew that emotions were going to be high, but there wasn’t an option not to win. We wanted to make sure it was a special day for the club and for everyone involved.”

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Leeds Rhinos ace Mikolaj Oledzki makes Rob Burrow admission

The game clearly had more emotional significance than most, and Oledzki spoke honestly about how that emotion stayed with him throughout the game.

“It was tough to keep it all in before kick-off.

Leeds Rhinos' minute's silence at Headingley following Rob Burrow's passing
Mikolaj Oledzki and his Leeds Rhinos team-mates pictured during the minute’s silence ahead of their Round 15 clash with Leigh Leopards following the passing of club icon Rob Burrow

“Usually, the emotion goes and you can get into it. Tonight, it was that loud that we couldn’t put the emotion away – but we used them (the supporters) in the right way, and it got us over the line.”

Oledzki also took a moment to pay tribute to former team-mate Burrow, who he played with in 2017, the late icon’s final year at Headingley and his first in the senior setup.

“There are no words to describe Rob, he was an absolute legend.

“What he’s achieved in rugby, and outside of it too; it was a great occasion to celebrate him.”

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‘It’s easy to get up for a game when you have a build up like that’

As Oledzki highlighted, there was a huge emotional factor that drove the Leeds performance on Friday night, and it was arguably their best showing of the season so far.

The Rhinos have had another mixed campaign to this point in 2024, but this win proved there are plenty of green shoots to be seen; and the Gdańsk-born forward feels they can really kick on following the victory against a Leigh side that will inevitably be in contention for a top six berth come the end of the campaign.

Leeds Rhinos fans applaud for Rob Burrow during 7th minute
Leeds Rhinos supporters applaud during the 7th minute of their clash with Leigh Leopards in tribute to club legend Rob Burrow following his passing

“It’s easy to get up for a game when you have a build up like that today; but the challenge is to turn up and play away from home, where there aren’t fireworks and 15,000 people behind you.

“That was a good example of what we can do, the platform that we can build from when we play with that desire, and the willingness to really grab the game by the scruff of the neck.

“The challenge is to build on that now and to do that every week.”

Leeds’ attack seemed to click into gear for the first time in a long time on Friday night, particularly in a first half which saw them head in 12-0 to the good come the break, but their efforts on the other side of the ball really helped them stem the growing Leigh storm come the second 40.

Desperate try-saving efforts from the likes of James McDonnell, Alfie Edgell and even Oledzki himself kept the Leopards at bay for large periods of the game, and the prop was quick to praise his side’s defensive efforts.

“What you want is to see that desire and the grind, and everyone digging in. Some of the try-savers today were incredible, and that’s what won us the game at the end of the day.”

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‘We spoke about certain people on TV having their opinions about things, and we decided to take that personally’

The Rhinos pack – and Oledzki in particular – received some fairly public criticism following the defeat to Hull FC in Round 14 which was the final straw for former boss Smith.

'BURROW 7' cut into the Headingley turf
An action shot from Leeds’ Round 15 victory against Leigh Leopards with ‘BURROW 7’ cut into the turf at Headingley as the club paid tribute to Rhinos icon Rob Burrow following his passing

And having received that criticism from pundits and certain sections of the media, four-time England international Oledzki used that as additional fuel to fire his performance upon Friday’s emotional return to Headingley, as did the rest of his team-mates.

The 25-year-old affirmed: “We spoke about certain people on TV having their opinions about things, and we decided to take that personally.

“I thought we (the forward pack) put our best foot forward today, and I feel like we did a good job, especially in the first half.”

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Oledzki’s high praise for Rhinos loanee Sam Eseh following debut

Ahead of the clash with Leigh, Leeds added some firepower in the shape of young gun Sam Eseh, brought in from Wigan Warriors on a four-week loan deal.

Eseh made his Rhinos debut off the interchange bench, and Oledzki had some high praise for the club’s newest recruit post-match as he said: “Sam only came in for one training session, but he’s a Leeds lad, and fair play to Sam, he ripped it up.

“He understood what a big occasion it was for the club and for the team.

Sam Eseh
Loanee Sam Eseh made his debut for Leeds Rhinos on Friday night as they beat Leigh Leopards 18-10 at Headingley

“I thought he showed that he really cared about getting a good performance in, and helping us get the two points.”

Courtesy of Friday night’s win, Leeds now sit just two points outside the play-off spots, and return to action following the international break with a home game against bottom club London Broncos.

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