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St George-Illawarra Dragons forward Mike Cooper.

Mike Cooper is lucky to be alive. 

Signed by Warrington as an 11-year-old, Cooper was one of the biggest up-and-coming rugby league stars in England as a junior. The Dragons lock represented his country at every single level growing up and was always tipped to be one of his nation's top players. 

Yet at the tender age of 18, Cooper's career would take a cruel turn that almost led to the grimmest of conclusions.  

Cooper was playing for Warrington's Academy side – the same club he'll play for in 2017 after announcing his Dragons departure last week – where he broke both the fibula and tibia in his leg.

Complications during surgery on his horrific injuries saw the now-27-year-old contract pneumonia and as a result stop breathing. 

Cooper was rushed from the operating table to intensive care where a ventilator kept him alive for eight days.

He was even read his last rites, yet miraculously still remains to tell the tale to – one that reaffirms how fleeting life is.

"They didn't think I was going to survive and it set me back for a long time. Mentally – rather than physically – I didn't recover from that for two years," Cooper said.

"It's one of those things that shape you in your life. I look back on it now and I really have no fear with things. 

"That mental toughness got me through that period and it really helped my career progress because nothing's more difficult than being on your deathbed. Just playing one game again was a big achievement so for me to be still playing is a big honour."

Cooper said the motivation behind his move to the NRL stemmed from his "serious accident" (as he put it), displeased with how he performed in the Super League in the latter years of his first Wolves stint. 

Yet Cooper still produces a wry smile when he rattles off what he still achieved in his time at Warrington – be it his 140 games, featuring in grand finals or winning the illustrious Challenge Cup in 2009. 

"I probably enjoyed the fact I was still alive too much rather than focusing on rugby league," Cooper admitted. 

"I only blame myself for the way I played prior to coming to Australia. I probably became too comfortable. The whole reason behind me coming out here was to challenge myself against the best in the world. 

"I've always been an NRL fan and it was always a dream of mine to come over and play here. To tick that box and achieve what I have and played so many games, I'm really proud."

Above all Cooper's time in Australia allowed him to make his Test debut last year during New Zealand's tour of England where he featured in the entire series.

Cooper said his achievements at the Dragons and in the NRL made it even tougher to come to a decision over his departure at season's end. 

"It took a long time to come to a decision but I think it was the right thing to do for the family and I'm thankful the Dragons could see that. It was something I had to do for my family," Cooper said.

"By the end of year, I've been away for three years which is a long time. I have a little boy now and I think the right thing for us to do is to go back home and be back around family.

"It's been three hard years here but I have loved every minute of it. It's been a challenge, it's certainly changed me as a player and a person and this club has had a massive part in that."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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