Oloapu eyes NRL comeback in 2025 for Canterbury

Jasper Bruce |

Injured Bulldogs player Karl Oloapu is hoping to make a return to the NRL in 2025.
Injured Bulldogs player Karl Oloapu is hoping to make a return to the NRL in 2025.

Karl Oloapu is eyeing a return to the NRL in 2025, opening up on a tumultuous four months during which a neck injury jeopardised his promising career at Canterbury.

The Bulldogs paid a $500,000 transfer fee to lure elite teenage halves prospect Oloapu from Brisbane in 2023 and sign him to a four-year contract.

But after playing seven games in his rookie season, Oloapu reported unusual tingling sensations in his body while training in the off-season and was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck.

Medical experts told the Bulldogs the injury could threaten his career.

“It was definitely a shock,” Oloapu said.

“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.

“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.”

Oloapu underwent successful surgery, during which a cage was installed in his neck to keep the area stable. He has been ruled out for the entire 2024 season.

The 19-year-old began to run at training again this month and, as he works back to peak physical condition, he is aiming to make a return to the field next year.

“My focus right now is to get my body right and cut down a few kilos. I need to basically let my neck heal and not try to rush things. I have to be smart,” he said.

“I’m just trying to stay present and do everything I can to come back in 2025.”

Throughout the ordeal, Oloapu has been consulting with Sydney Roosters legend Anthony Minichiello, who underwent the same surgery on a bulging disc during his own career.

Canterbury forward Ryan Sutton, currently sidelined with a knee injury, has also been a sounding board in the Bulldogs’ casualty ward.

“I call him my son,” Sutton said.

“We’ve got a tight bond at the minute. I’ve been in that situation where you’ve been injured when you’re young and it’s really hard. 

“Credit to him, he’s just been knuckling down.

“He’s 19 years old, he’s got a long time ahead of him and he can use this year to progress himself physically and mentally.”

Oloapu is taking a positive outlook on his injury struggle as his chances of making an NRL return increase.

“No one wants an injury like that to happen to you, but it’s kind of a blessing in disguise,” he said.

“Building that resilience and meeting new people along the way … I’ve been really grateful for a second chance at playing this game.”