Bulldogs teen Karl Oloapu to undergo career-saving neck surgery

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A spinal specialist has given teenage Canterbury playmaker Karl Oloapu hope of making a successful return from a neck injury that threatened his promising NRL career.

There were fears Oloapu, who played through the pain of a bulging disc for much of last season, would be forced to retire. Bulldogs general manager Phil Gould previously told this masthead he had gathered two medical opinions that indictated Oloapu had played his last game over concerns he was at risk of a catastrophic injury if he played on.

But on Thursday night Oloapu’s team arranged a third opinion, that of Associate professor Mark Winder. The renowned St Vincent’s Hospital spinal surgeon said that, with corrective surgery, Oloapu could potentially return to the field as soon as the middle of next year.

“We went into that expecting that if it was bad news, we would accept that,” said Oloapu’s manager, Matt Adamson.

“We have been upfront with that right through the process. The way [Winder] articulated things in that meeting to say he was going to be OK is awesome, which has given Karl great hope.

Karl Oloapu is hoping to return to the NRL next year.Credit: NRL Photos

“The key to all of this is he said, ‘This can be fixed’. Karl is excited, but there’s still some way to go.”

The 18-year-old has been touted as one of the game’s top young talents and has already made seven NRL appearances since making his debut in round nine of last season. The Bulldogs paid a $500,000 transfer fee to secure him from the Broncos in the belief he would be the club’s long-term playmaker. During his brief first-grade career to date, Oloapu showed glimpses of his potential in the halves and in the back-row.

However, the neck issue raised doubts about whether he would be able to fulfil a contract that didn’t expire until the end of 2026. With his career at a crossroads, Oloapu was put in touch with Anthony Minichiello, the Roosters legend who overcame multiple spinal operations that threatened his career. Minichiello helped to arrange an appointment with Winder and plans to keep in touch with the Australian schoolboys star after Thursday’s positive news.

“We don’t want to rush it, we’ve got time on our side,” Adamson said.

“The kid has endured a fair bit in a young career, he’s still only 18. There’s no need for stupidity in this, we’ll take it a step at a time.

“We’ll follow the experts’ orders and see where it lands us.”

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