If you know Cameron Cullen, you know that he doesn’t do anything by halves – so why would injuries be any different?
The live wire Redcliffe Dolphins halfback missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a knee injury during the pre-season, but despite the initial disappointment, it came to be a blessing in disguise.
“It was a funny one... I did it in a charity touch competition, which is something we put a side in each year for my brother who passed away, so it obviously means a lot to me, so I don’t really regret playing in it,” Cullen said of how the injury occurred.
“I basically loaded up a massive right-foot step and my foot stayed still and my knee kept going – I just blew out my knee.
“I think I did everything you can do, I did an ACL, MCL, PCL... everything with a CL in it, you can guarantee I did it.
“I was sort of hopping around and didn’t think it was that bad, but I obviously got scans on the Monday and goneski, which was a bit of a shock.
“I had never had surgery in my career, I had never had a year off in my career, so it was the first time and I was like ‘you (have to) sit over there and watch the season’, so it was more of a mental battle for me.
"Football has been a part of my life since I was six and (I was) told that I have to have a full year away from it.
“It’s funny, but it was good, to be honest. That’s probably a weird thing to say, but it was a good thing to go through, I guess, now that I am out the other side.
“I try not to look back too much, I just had a couple of months rest and cleared my head and then got back into the club and started ripping in.
“It was a real mental battle and I have come through and I am keen as, I am like a little kid again and I am ready to play footy.”
Match: Dolphins v Falcons
Round 1 -
Venue: Dolphin Stadium, Brisbane
One unforeseen positive to come out of his injury was the time it gave him to focus on areas of his life outside of football, which can - at times - be all-consuming for players.
“That’s one thing about doing my ACL... it gave me a chance to start at Image Property and do a full year in real estate, I really enjoyed it,” Cullen, who also owns Cultivate Investments, said.
It also let him spend more time at home with his young family.
“It was awesome for me, I just had a new baby, so I have a nearly 11-month-old baby, so that coincided with me having a new baby and I got to stay home, so that was pretty cool to have a few months without working and just actually being with both my kids and my partner, so that was awesome,” the two-time premiership winning half with both Redcliffe and the Burleigh Bears said.
However, now he is "fit and firing" and ready again for football, balancing the key areas of his life will be a challenge.
“It is a challenge, obviously with real estate, I am really busy, so it is a hard one, I guess, to juggle all of them, but I have done a lot of self development in the last year and what I have learnt is just to be present wherever I am,” Cullen said.
“If I am at the footy, be present, make sure I am doing everything I can, whether it’s doing extras to work on my game in footy, if I am real estate, make sure I am off my phone and ripping into real estate or on my phone if I need to be, but make sure I am doing real estate, and if I am with my family, make sure I am with my family, you know, turn the phone off, spend time with my kids and missus.
“(Being organised) is something that I learnt – I was a professional footballer since I was out of high school, so that’s not something that came naturally to me, so the last year I have really learnt organisational (skills).
“Structure, routine, planning my day, going all the way through it. So that is something that has helped me massively, ‘cause the better I got at that, the easier everything is to juggle.
“So, I am doing plenty. Am doing plenty on the peninsula and I love it.
“I am happy. That’s the main thing. I have been through a lot with heaps of things, but obviously, my knee is the most recent thing and having a year off, but yeah I am happy, so it’s good.”
With a spate of unfortunate injuries occurring across the game this pre-season and earlier, Cullen has offered his support and some advice to those who suffer long-term injuries.
“I have tried to touch base with as many blokes as I could. I know young Joshy (Ralph) over at Easts did his and I know that Ryan James just re-did his. It’s a terrible thing, so I always try to touch base with players that I know that have done it," Cullen said.
“I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is the mental side of it and having a break from footy.
"What worked for me was just clearing my head and getting away from footy for a while, I started ripping into my self development and personal life, spending time with my kids and family, and ripping into work and doing as well as I could in the business world while I was out.”
As for the future, his goals are quite simple.
“I just want to win the comp again to be honest,” Cullen said matter-of-factly.
“I have always had massive personal goals, and I don’t want to play NRL again. If I do play NRL, I want it to be in a Redcliffe jersey, so that sort of shows where my head is at.
“I want to take this club to the national championship and if I do play NRL again, I will only do it in a Redcliffe jersey. So my intention is to help get this club to the NRL and if I am still in really good form and I still believe I can play NRL, then I will play NRL at this club.
“That’s the goal, I want to win a national title and help get this club into the NRL.
“We have got a lot of talent, what has been important though is that Moggy (coach Adam Mogg) and the coaching staff have created a really good culture where that talent can do really well in.
“We have set some pretty high standards for ourselves and I am pretty excited for the year.”