Canadian international prop Jake Ilnicki, 26, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Mike Shelley after agreeing a one year contract with Yorkshire Carnegie.

Tight head prop Ilnicki is currently with Aviva Premiership side Newcastle Falcons but he will make the move to the Greene King IPA Championship next season to join the club where his international coach still holds the club record for most appearances.

Leeds-born Shelley made 244 appearances in all competition for his home town club between 1996 and 2006, leading the club to the Powergen Cup win at Twickenham in 2005. After retiring from playing, Shelley moved to Canada where he has worked in various capacities with the Canadian national side in recent years and became a mentor for Ilnicki.

Ilnicki is looking forward to the chance to play at Emerald Headingley next season. He commented, “I have heard lots of good things about the club and I know it has a great history. This is a chance for me to play regularly and perform consistently, which is something that appealed to me a lot. I know that forwards coach Steve Boden has got a great reputation, there are guys at the Falcons who speak highly of him. The Championship is a tough competition and the only reason I do what I do is to play. If I can perform to a good standard hopefully I can get my foot in the door.

“I have spoken to Mike Shelley a lot down the years about his time at Leeds. He has been a mentor for me for the last six years and has been the biggest influence on my career. I speak to him regularly but I have kept it a surprise from him that I had put pen to paper with his old club. He has nothing but good things to say about the club and the city. It will be strange seeing pictures of him around the place but that will keep me in line and remind me how far I have come!” added Ilnicki.

Ilnicki has also been able to talk to his team mate and former Yorkshire skipper Ryan Burrows about his new club before making the decision to move South. He added, “I have been speaking to Ryan Burrows quite a bit about my move to Yorkshire Carnegie and he has been pointing me in the right direction about where to live. It has been nice to hear from his point of view about the city and I know he is a bit of a legend down there.”

Originally from Williams Lake in British Colombia, he first made a name for himself for the San Diego Breakers in PRO Rugby and Manawatu Turbos in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup before coming to England to initially join Northampton Saints. He was a regular with the A League side, helping the Wanderers win the Aviva ‘A’ League Final last season but did not see any Premiership action with Saints.

In September he signed for Newcastle, initially as cover for long-term injury victims David Wilson and Scott Wilson. Again, Ilnicki mainly featured in the Aviva ‘A’ league, making his only Premiership appearance thus far as a replacement against Exeter Chiefs in October.

He has been a regular in the Canadian side since his test debut in November 2013, starting all six internationals in 2018 to bring his total to 28 caps. With Canada needing to compete in the Repechage qualification tournament in November for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, Ilnicki is hoping his move to Yorkshire Carnegie can help him and the national side. He added, “Gaining more game time is very important for me with the World Cup on the horizon. In Canada we have lots of young players coming up who have been playing a lot more consistently than I have been. I need to come to Yorkshire and earn some playing time to keep my role with the Canadian team. It has been a dark couple of years with the national side but hopefully if I am learning as much as I can over here, I can bring that back to the boys to help everyone out.

“I feel I am in a strong position to kick on after my time in Newcastle. The Falcons pride themselves on their fitness and speed of play and that has really added to my game. Micky Ward is a really smart forwards coach which has been great for me. The Premiership is such a high standard and every bit of experience has helped me develop as a player.”