MIKOLAJ Oledzki has revealed releasing the pressure has been the key to his and Leeds’ resurgence as they aim to go all the way to Grand Final glory.
The prop’s performances have made him a virtual certainty for a place in Shaun Wane’s England World Cup squad.
He may go into that tournament a Super League champion after the Rhinos charged into the top six, albeit by pretty much stumbling over the line against Castleford.
And the way boss Rohan Smith has helped the players concentrate on what they do best and not worry about what comes with it is behind the rise.
Now he is enjoying being a Leeds player.
Poland-born Oledzki said: “Rohan’s taken a lot of pressure off me and is letting me enjoy my rugby. When I do that, I play my best.
“There was a lot of pressure to do well and we’ve a pretty young team. We didn’t start the season well and I started doubting myself.
“I asked, ‘What am I doing wrong? Am I playing well? There were nerves going games but we were disappointed with how we finished last year and had made some good signings.
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“We’re very ambitious and wanted to challenge for trophies, so when results at the start of the season didn’t go our way, we were a bit down. Then bans kept coming in and it felt like everything was against us.
“Fans were getting frustrated, we were getting frustrated and that’s when pressure builds but Rohan stripped that back and said, ‘You’re here for a reason, go out and enjoy yourself, play rugby.’
“As simple as it sounds, that’s allowed everyone to play with a smile on their face. When you enjoy playing, the results take care of themselves.
“I’ve had a few games where I wasn’t at the races and I thought, ‘I’m not quite firing on all cylinders,’ but I’ve always tried to keep my minimum standard quite high.
“If I had a bad game, I was playing at a pretty good level.”
Oledzki and Leeds head to Perpignan to face Catalans for the third time since the end of July as they clock up the air miles for a game that goes ahead despite The Queen's death.
So tonight’s elimination clash – the loser goes out – will not exactly be a voyage into the unknown.
Oledzki, 24, added: “We’ve had it uphill for a while now with injuries and travelling there so often. It’s not been easy and it’s not going to get easier but the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward.
“Being 8-0 down to Castleford didn’t sound too bad. We were 20-odd points down at Catalans the other week and came back to win.”
Catalans went two points from taking the Super League title to France last year but after finishing fourth, they will have to do it tougher as a semi-final would be away from home.
For Mitchell Pearce, though, this is both something new and nothing new having been in several NRL finals matches before moving to France this year.
And he is already of the mindset needed to win end-of-season clashes, saying: “There’s more at stake, so it brings the best out of everyone effort-wise.
“You work all year to get to this point. This is the part that matters and what everyone remembers."
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