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Bulldog opens up after 'shock' neck surgery

Martin Gabor -

Bulldogs young gun Karl Oloapu says season-ending neck injury could turn out to be a "blessing in disguise", with the talented half scoffing at suggestions that he'll be forced into early retirement.

The 19-year-old battled through a bulging disc for much of his rookie season and was ruled out for the entire 2024 campaign after he went under the knife late last year.

"It was definitely a shock," he said.

"Having my faith and everything like that, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. This is just another obstacle that God sent me to overcome. I think it's part of the journey and the game.

Karl Oloapu needed major neck surgery to repair a bulging disc which plagued him during his rookie year. Picture: Supplied.

Karl Oloapu needed major neck surgery to repair a bulging disc which plagued him during his rookie year. (Image: supplied)

"I think when you have a family that's always there for you and always supports you, nothing really scares you even though at times it does. Finding out what my injury was, there were times when I got scared.

"But I know at the end of the day that everything is going to be all right.

"No one wants an injury like that to happen to you but it's kind of a blessing in disguise, kind of learning about diet and building that resilience and meeting new people along the way.

"I've been really grateful for a second chance at playing this game."

Oloapu started running two weeks ago and is already planning on his comeback in 2025 despite hearing suggestions the Bulldogs should medically retire him to free up space in the salary cap.

Oloapu is eyeing off a return to footy in 2025. Picture: NRL Photos

Oloapu is eyeing off a return to footy in 2025. (Image: NRL Photos)

"It was a big shock for me, people trying to say that I was going to retire," he said.

"That's out of my control to think about the future (and the possibility of never playing again). I'm just trying to stay present and do everything I can to come back in 2025.

"But I think my focus right now is to come back from it. Not to prove people wrong, but to prove myself right."

The teenager played seven games in his rookie season and is seen as a future star of the game, and he revealed on Tuesday just how uncomfortable things got last year as he started experiencing things his body had never done before.

"I was doing off-season training and things were happening to my body that didn't usually happen before," he explained, revealing he's working with Canterbury's coaches to gain a fresh perspective on rugby league.

"I was starting to feel a tingly thing in my body which isn't normal so I got that checked.

"That's when I realised that I had to go check it out. I ended up coming back to Sydney and found out that it is what it is.

"There's now a cage in my neck. I had a disc in my neck that was a bit fragile, so we ended up removing that and then put a cage in there to keep everything stable."

Anthony Minichiello (right) has mentored Oloapu throughout his rehab: Supplied.

Anthony Minichiello (right) has mentored Oloapu throughout his rehab: (Image: supplied)

Complicated surgery like this would have been confronting for the young man, but he says former Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello has helped him immensely given the rep star went through something similar earlier in his career.

"I'm still in contact with Mini. He's been massive for me," he said.

"Just having that one conversation and then him taking that time out of his day to see a young kid who is trying to make his dreams come true was really appreciated by my family and me.

"He's been in contact, he's been sending me emails on my diet, things like drinking bone broth, collagen, just staying on that carnivore sort of diet.

"It is definitely helping. Mini played an extra 10 years after his injury so it's definitely helping me. He's mad."

Martin Gabor - NCA NewsWire

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