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Israel Folau flaunts his new jersey. Photograph: Annette Dew / The Daily Telegraph
Breath of fresh air ... Israel Folau flaunts his new jersey. Photograph: Annette Dew / The Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph
THE NRL's most talented teenager is back where he belongs - and now officially a Bronco.

Israel Folau was paraded by his new club yesterday in the Brisbane colours he will proudly wear for at least the next four years.

The freakishly talented 19-year-old is destined to join the likes of foundation signings Wally Lewis and Gene Miles, legendary prop Glenn Lazarus and inspirational former Test skipper Gorden Tallis as being among the club's most significant coups.

Folau's signing was the boost Brisbane needed to help overcome the stigma of their off-field problems.

Like a breath of fresh air, the humble and ultra-polite superstar yesterday rolled into a boardroom laden with trophies, honour boards and premiership paintings.

While Folau is yet to strap on a boot for Brisbane - which incidentally will be of the adidas variety, at odds with the club's major apparel sponsor Nike due to an existing deal - he's already proving a major asset to a club intent on turning a fresh page with a new-look squad.

"As good a player as Izzy is, we're really happy about the kind of person he is as well," coach Ivan Henjak said yesterday. "We think Izzy is a really good fit here in terms of his personality and character.

"We're excited as much about that as we are about his playing ability. We believe the way Izzy plays his footy and the kind of person he is, he's going to be a very good fit for our organisation."

Folau's tight-knit Mormon family, who stayed put in Brisbane during his sensational two-year stint in Melbourne, was the pre-eminent factor in the teenager's decision to link with the club he idolised as a kid.

"I'm really excited to be back in Brisbane," Folau said. "I've got good support around me with the club, Ivan, the team and also my family.

"Religion is the biggest part of my life and that and football go together for me. Even though I was playing good footy in Melbourne away from my family, I think it's going to help me this year being back."

Henjak added: "That aspect gives Izzy a really good balance in his life. He seems a really grounded guy.

"Israel has a little way to go in terms of carving his own little piece of history here. He understands there's a long way to go, he still needs to fit into the team and that's going to be an important aspect for him to be able to perform at his best."

In other news, Test star Justin Hodges remains on track to return to the club on Australia Day after being granted a leave of absence for personal reasons. He won't play any trial matches.
Israel Folau is the latest to wear the Broncos' famous badge. Picture: Annette Dew. / The Courier-Mail
HAPPY to join his idols ... teenager Israel Folau is the latest to wear the Broncos' famous badge. Picture: Annette Dew. / The Courier-Mail
Story & Photo By : Matt Marshall Courier Mail

THE Brisbane Broncos yesterday rolled out the latest in their long line of prize recruits with the introduction of teen whizkid Israel Folau.

Folau joins foundation signings Wally Lewis and Gene Miles, prop Glenn Lazarus and inspirational former Test skipper Gorden Tallis and halfback Allan Langer among the club's most significant coups in its 21-year lifespan.

Folau, 19, has been tagged "Mini Mal" Meninga, with his name already etched in the record books as the youngest Australian Test player.


Given Brisbane's harrowing public examination late in 2008, when the club's professionalism and culture were publicly panned as corrosive and eroding amid the most damaging off-field scandal in their history, Folau's presence is seen as invaluable.

Like a breath of fresh air, the humble and ultra-polite superstar yesterday rolled into a boardroom laden with trophies, honour boards and premiership paintings, delivering an unspoken but palpable reminder of the types of revered characters who built the glamour club.

Folau has yet to strap on a boot for Brisbane (which incidentally will be of the adidas variety, at odds with the club's major apparel sponsor Nike due to an existing personal deal), but he is already proving a major asset for a club intent on turning a fresh page with a fresh-look squad.

"As good a player as Izzy is, we're really happy about the kind of person he is as well," coach Ivan Henjak said.

"We think Izzy is a really good fit here in terms of his personality and character. We are excited as much about that as we are about his playing ability.

"We believe the way Izzy plays his footy and the kind of person he is, he's going to be a very good fit for our organisation."

Folau's tight-knit Mormon family, who stayed put in Brisbane during his two-year stint in Melbourne, was the pre-eminent factor in the teenager's decision to link with the club he idolised as a youngster.

"I'm really excited to be back in Brisbane," Folau said.

"I've got good support around me with the club, Ivan, the team and also my family. Religion is the biggest part of my life and that and football go together for me."

Meanwhile, Test star Justin Hodges remains on track to return to the club on Australia Day after being granted leave of absence for personal reasons.

Hodges, who underwent off-season shoulder surgery, won't play any trials and is no certainty for Brisbane's Round 1 NRL clash against the Cowboys on March 13.
Israel Folau stands to make millions on the back of multi-national companies realising the power of his talent. / The Sunday Mail (Qld)
CORPORATE riches . . . Israel Folau stands to make millions on the back of multi-national companies realising the power of his talent. / The Sunday Mail (Qld)
Story & Photo By : Peter Badel Courier Mail
THREE years ago, he was an unknown teen playing touch football in the playground at Marsden State High.

Now Israel Folau is officially an NRL superstar after signing a lucrative deal with adidas that will see him replace Mark Gasnier as the sportswear giant's face of rugby league - at the tender age of 19.

The Queensland sensation launches his career at the Broncos today, hailed as one of the most important signings in the club's history.

He is now a corporate golden child who stands to make millions on the back of multi-national companies realising the power of his talent and the value of his clean-living Mormon lifestyle.

From next month, Folau's face will be splashed across bus shelters and billboards in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as part of an adidas marketing blitz.

In 2009, he will wear a specially-tailored boot and has recently completed filming for a TV advertisement after signing a two-year deal with Powerade.

And fame is paying sweet dividends for Folau. Last month, he moved into a home in south Brisbane large enough to accommodate his parents and his five siblings.

Folau admits he is blown away by his corporate appeal but says money and fame won't change him.

"I'm really lucky to be attracting sponsors and the money from football has helped my life, it's helped my family, but it won't change who I am,'' he said.
Israel Folau shows his joy after scoring for Australia against New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup (reuters)
Israel Folau shows his joy after scoring for Australia against New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup (reuters)
Story & Photo By Dave Hadfield : The INDEPENDENT
The imposing centre is a devout Mormon as well as one of Australia's most potent weapons.

The day will come, for it is written in the book, when Israel Folau will take time out from knocking over defenders and start knocking on doors.

The bad news for Australia's opponents in this World Cup and beyond is that he is not planning to take his sabbatical from rugby league any time soon.

The mighty Kangaroo centre is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – more often known as the Mormons – and as such is supposed to spend two years as a missionary.

"It's sort of expected, but there's nothing definite decided yet," says the 19-year-old giant who threatens to terrorise rivals for a decade or more unless his faith takes him elsewhere.

"I was brought up in the religion, so I want to do the right thing. But at the moment it seems as though I might be doing more good for my faith by playing football."

Folau is indeed a compelling advert for his particular brand of muscular Christianity. Born to Tongan parents, who brought their form of adherence with them to Australia from the islands, he was brought up first in Minto on the outskirts of Sydney and then in Brisbane.

It was there that he took up seriously the dominant local football code of rugby league, which everywhere in Australia now has a stronger Polynesian profile than ever before.

Folau typifies the natural advantages with which many island athletes start. He is 6ft 5ins and a lean 16st 3lbs, fast and flexible as well as huge.

Small wonder that he soon began to stand out in Brisbane schoolboy league. When he was only 15, the Melbourne Storm's talent scout, who treats Queensland as his prime recruiting ground, described Folau, already playing against boys several years older than him, as the next Mal Meninga.

Given that Meninga – an equally imposing Torres Straight Islander – is Queensland royalty and arguably the most formidable centre Australia has ever produced, that comparison might seem a heavy cross to bear, but Folau shows no sign of buckling beneath its weight.

At 17, the Storm introduced him into the hard school of the National Rugby League and he immediately thrived. In his first full season, he was the clear choice as the competition's Rookie of the Year and last October, at the age of 18 years and 194 days, he became the youngest player ever to appear in a Test for Australia.

Not only did Folau play, he shone as brightly as any of his more experienced team-mates, scoring two tries in a 58-0 avalanche.

"Things have gone pretty well for me over the last two years," he says with some understatement. "Sometimes I can't believe how much has happened. That's where my religion has helped so much. It keeps my feet on the ground and helps me to stay humble."

A less grounded individual could easily have got carried away by the rapidity of his success. His second season as a first-teamer in 2008 saw him reach a second Grand Final with Melbourne, although they could not repeat the previous year's victory, and he was firmly established as half of Australia's youngest ever centre partnership with his 21-year-old club colleague, Greg Inglis, by the time this World Cup kicked off.

"It's the sort of thing you dream of as a boy – playing for your country in the World Cup on the biggest stage," he says.

That World Cup career began auspiciously with two tries in another demolition of New Zealand. If he was a little quieter in the thrashing of England last weekend, that was only because his side did so much damage down Inglis' side of the field.

In fact, you could argue that it was England's concentration on cutting down Folau's options – "You've just got to get there in numbers," said his opposite centre, Keith Senior, before the match – that opened up so many opportunities for others.

He now faces the central issue of deciding which aspects of his life should take priority over the next few years. Another high-profile Mormon player, Krisnan Inu, an almost equally talented utility back who is in New Zealand's squad for this World Cup, has decided that he will not be taking two years out to proselytise for the cause before the usual cut-off point of his 25th birthday.

His reasoning is that he is a better recruitment vehicle for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the rugby league field than off it.

Israel Folau – known as Izzy or simply Big Man to his team-mates – might come to the same conclusion, but is not making any binding statement on the matter yet.

It seems likely, however, that he will have told the Broncos that he plans to stick around for a while. At 19, he has, in theory, plenty of time to pursue both callings.

The sobering thought for potential opponents is that, on the doorstep with his persuasive powers or on the footy field with his equally persuasive skills, he remains a man on a mission.
Sydney Morning Herald
IN the beer-soaked world of the NRL, Israel Folau is sober.

"I just want to be the best footy player I can be," says a mega star of the World Cup, entering tonight's clash against Papua Guinea fresh from helping Australia to big wins over New Zealand and England.

"I started to take my football seriously at the age of 15. That was the time I knew I wanted to do this with my life," said Folau, who has been named on the bench for tonight's tussle in Townsville.

"I made the Australian under-15s merit team and that's when I really put my foot down and worked myself up there. I never wanted to do anything that would harm my footy. From 15, that's all I wanted to do, play footy at a good level.

"That sounds weird now because it wasn't long ago that I was 15. It's all happened so quick. I wasn't playing other sports back then. Just footy. That was it, footy or nothing. League is my entire focus."

In a sport boasting its fair share of whingers, the 19-year-old feels nothing but blessed.

"I do have times when I have to pinch myself a bit," he says. "When I think about it, it's pretty full-on. At times I think about what I've done over the last two years. I just finished school three years ago. I've been a part of Origin, I've played for Australia and I won a premiership in my first year.

"It happened so quick, and I suppose that doesn't happen to too many players. I've enjoyed the whole time. I've played for two years and made two grand finals. I've been really blessed. It's been a pretty good journey for me so far."

In a sport where traditional values can go up the wall, Folau wants his family.

"It's a strange time for me," he says. "It's difficult, or different. I move to Queensland after the World Cup. I enjoyed my time in Melbourne. It's been good for me. But it's time to move on to the next chapter.

"It's exciting. I'm looking forward to meeting the new coaching staff there and just to experience the culture at the Broncos."

Really? You want to experience the culture at the Broncos? Sex dramas, alcohol-related arrests, discipline so bad everyone is called home from holidays. What, exactly, is the Broncos' culture? Folau, a Mormon who steers clear of the demon drink, is about to find out.

"I've made the decision to go, so that's what I'm going to do," he says. "I've got no regrets at all. My family are up there. They've had the biggest influence on my football since I started. They've been behind me right from the beginning. Their support has been great the last two years, and especially the last few weeks after the grand final... LEARN MORE
Israel Folau at Origin training for the Maroons yesterday. Picture: Peter Wallis / The Courier-Mail
BACK where he belongs ... Melbourne Storm's powerhouse Israel Folau at Origin training for the Maroons yesterday. Picture: Peter Wallis / The Courier-Mail
Courier Mail

QUEENSLAND coach Mal Meninga admits he got it wrong playing Israel Folau on the left wing in Origin I and is set to switch the 104kg giant to his preferred right side for the return bout with NSW at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday.

Meninga was critical of a couple of decisions Folau made in defence in Origin I, but put it down to inexperience and playing out of position.

Folau scored a try on debut but it came in the 79th minute and simply made the score more respectable on a night when the Blues dominated from the opening whistle.

Yesterday, at the Maroons' first training hitout, former Broncos teammates Brent Tate and Darius Boyd were reunited on the left side.

Although there was no work with the football it was a pointer to what Meninga has in mind, with Melbourne Storm pair Greg Inglis and Folau set to team on the right.

"Darius is one of the form wingers of the competition and one of the leading tryscorers," Meninga said.

"I think he'll fill the void on our left side admirably.

"Darius is a winger, he plays left side. He is comfortable with that position so we went that way."

Asked about Folau's Origin debut, Meninga said: "There were a couple of things Israel should have been able to read better in defence in Sydney.

"That might have come from a little bit of inexperience from him. But then again it could be my fault for playing him on the left side, which he's not used to in recent times."

Folau and centre Justin Hodges played right side in the Centenary Test in Sydney on May 9, with Mark Gasnier the left centre and Inglis his partner.

Meninga said he was not angry with Hodges over his six-week ban for a dangerous throw on Parramatta's Mark Riddell.

"I'm disappointed for him and Queensland," Meninga said.

"He's an important cog in our team and obviously he didn't do justice to himself with that incident."

Predictably NSW has indicated it will pepper rookie winger Boyd with bombs.

"We probably will be asking him questions, being on debut," fullback Brett Stewart said.

"Folau is pretty accurate when it comes to catching the ball, so we will definitely ask Boyd the questions."

Boyd recently committed to the Broncos for another season after exercising an option in his favour but could be released if he gets a better longer-term deal at a rival club.

It is understood St George Illawarra is the most likely option if he decides to move.

The Dragons will be coached by current Broncos boss Wayne Bennett next year.

Where to see the Maroons today (Thursday, June 5):

• Canterbury Promotion in the City, 12.30pm-1.30pm.

• Harvey Norman Promotion at Rothwell, 6.30pm-8pm.
Israel Folau is being touted as the next Mal Meninga. / The Daily Telegraph
Israel Folau is being touted as the next Mal Meninga. / The Daily Telegraph
Izzy laughing
Israel Falou serious
Israel Falou
Israel Falou get tackled in State of Origin 1
Israel Falou dives for a try in the 1st SOO at Telstra
Israel Falou dives for a try in the 1st SOO at Telstra

QUEENSLAND are ready to "unleash the beast" on the Blues tonight with Israel Folau, the man touted as the next Mal Meninga, primed for his Origin debut.

Having cast off a virus that has kept him bedridden for the past two days, the teenage Goliath has been cleared for interstate lift-off.

At 19, Folau has already won a premiership and played two Tests for Australia.

Maroons skipper Cameron Smith said the Melbourne star, who has signed with the Broncos from 2009, would bring "part Mal Meninga, part Gene Miles'' to the Origin table.

He tipped Folau to make an immediate and indelible mark on league's toughest stage.

"He is made for Origin and I know he's going to do a great job,'' Smith said.

"He is still a quiet and shy kid, but I just know he is going to shine.

I think he has really enjoyed the week in camp and now we just stand back and unleash the beast.''

The striking resemblance between a teenage Meninga and the man he will coach for the first time tonight is inescapable.

Meninga was 20 when he made his Origin debut as a strapping 185cm, 101kg centre in 1980.

Folau is a few months younger but stands at an imposing 195cm and 103kg.

After a week in camp with Folau, Meninga said the youngster's potential was boundless.

"He's got all the talent and the indications are he'll be one of the greatest players the game has ever seen,'' said Meninga, himself a Team of the Century centre.

"But there's still a way to go yet. There's no doubt centre is going to be his position.

I haven't been surprised by his athleticism or ability because I see him every week on the TV.

He's a player of enormous potential. He hasn't reached his peak yet but it's nice to have him in the side.''

Folau was embarrassed by suggestions he was a modern-day Meninga.

"I don't feel that I should be compared to him because he's achieved so much in rugby league and I'm just starting,'' said Folau, who scored 21 tries in his debut NRL season.

"I don't want to take too much notice of (those sort of) compliments about me.

I've got to pinch myself a few times to know this has all come so quickly.''

Folau, a Mormon, will start on the wing tonight outside another freakish talent - Storm teammate Greg Inglis.

The Maroons are expected to use their decided height advantage to target the Blues out wide.

Meninga predicts tonight's clash will prove the toughest test of Folau's fledgling career.

"It's his first Origin game and even though he has already played Test matches this is a different environment for him,'' Meninga said.

"He's pretty casual and laid-back. I don't think many things worry him, which is a pretty good sign. He's pretty composed.

But he'll learn a lot from this experience, there's no doubt about it.''

Story By : Daily Telegraph
MELBOURNE have eased off rather than increased the pressure on rugby league's top target Israel Folau to re-sign.

The defending NRL champions still desperately want the 18-year-old Test winger to make his future with the club but have agreed to leave it to Folau and his management to call the next shot.

Although they're aware they face raging competition from the Roosters, Bulldogs, Broncos and Titans, the Storm haven't spoken to Folau about contract negotiations this year.

Folau capped off an astonishing rookie year last year when he became the youngest ever Test player for the Kangaroos when he scored two tries against New Zealand.

Considered the frontrunners to lure him away from Melbourne, the Roosters are currently trialling his 22-year-old brother Tevita, also known as David.

He is looking to start an NRL career after spending two years in Hong Kong completing Mormon missionary work.

Their younger brother Eni, 15, is also on a Roosters scholarship as he completes his schooling in Brisbane.

The Roosters also snared the Storm's recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan, the man responsible for discovering the giant teen, who added 10 kilos and four centimetres in the past 12 months to now measure in at 103kg and 194cm.

But the Storm have realised the ball is in Folau's court.

"At the request of Israel, he hasn't set himself a deadline to make a decision by, he'd rather take it pretty casually so we've respected his decision and gone with that," said new Melbourne football manager Frank Ponissi.

"We'll sit down a bit more formally in a couple of weeks but the last thing we want to do is put any undue pressure on him."

While Melbourne may not be able to match some of their cashed-up rivals in the money stakes, they are confident a champion line-up, coach Craig Bellamy and the low-key Melbourne lifestyle hold plenty of attraction for Folau.

"We believe Israel and his management group that he wants to stay so it's going to come down to a financial decision at the end of the day.

"We just need to make him an offer that's comparable to one he's going to get elsewhere, we're hoping that he'll stay."

Folau's manager Isaac Moses said Folau would sign a contract "when he's ready".

The Storm will also conduct more formal discussions later this month with prized forward Dallas Johnson, who is also off contract at the end of the season.

"We're going to try to do something before the start of the season because that would be in the best interest of the player and the club, to have their future sorted out," said Ponissi.

Man mountain ... Storm sensation Israel Folau, at 194cm, squeezes through the door at Melbourne headquarters. Photograph: Michael Klein
Man mountain ... Storm sensation Israel Folau, at 194cm, squeezes through the door at Melbourne headquarters. Photograph: Michael Klein
Daily Telegraph
THIS is the sight rugby league players around the country had been dreading.

Israel Folau, the 18-year-old Melbourne Storm sensation who produced one of the most memorable debut seasons in living memory, now has to duck through doors within the club's headquarters after an off-season growth spurt.

Folau stood 190cm and tipped the scales at 93kg when he arrived in Melbourne for pre-season training last January.

And by the end of the season he weighed 100kg.

Now, Folau, who expects to grow further in the next 12 months, has measured in at 194cm and 103kg.

His stunning transformation from wonderboy to superman is complete - it's now just a matter of how big he actually gets.

"I'm not sure how much I've grown in height but I know I've put on plenty of kilos," Folau said.

"It's a good and a bad thing for me as well. I know I've got a lot more growing to do so I'll do a few more weights this year and get bigger."

Folau registered impressive results in the gym this month.

He improved his maximum bench press from 90kg sets last January to 110kg and his maximum squat from 120kg to 170kg.

Folau said maintaining his speed was vital as he increased his bulk. He has been doing extra sprint training sessions in a bid to build on his stunning 21-try rookie year that ended with an NRL premiership and two tries in his Test debut for Australia against New Zealand.

"With all the weight I've put on from the start of this year, all the way to the end, I'd lose my speed," Folau said.

"So I've been working on my speed and getting my technique right as well."

The stunning pre-season results have put him well ahead, at least physically, of the rugby league great he was constantly compared to during his debut year, former Queensland and Australian captain Mal Meninga.

When Meninga played his first State Of Origin game for Queensland, at just 19, in 1980, he was 183cm and 89kg.

By 1994, in his last interstate series, he had grown to 185cm and 107kg.

Folau should make his Origin debut this year - under the guidance of Maroons coach Meninga.

Storm strength and conditioning coach Alex Corvo said Folau was just one of a number of Melbourne players who had increased their bulk during pre-Christmas training.

"At this stage of the year we're in very good shape," he said.
Israel Folau is the right age to play in the NRL's new Toyota Cup.
ELIGIBLE . . . talented Storm winger Israel Folau is the right age to play in the NRL's new Toyota Cup.

THE NRL has hit back at critics of its fledgling under-20s competition, claiming more than 70 per cent of NRL stars cut their teeth in the top grade.

Reacting to comments from outspoken knockers Steve Roach and Mark Murray - who argue the imminent competition will damage the game - the NRL has lashed out.

The game's ruling body has dismissed Roach's assertions the under-20 cut-off will prove futile.

It said 72 per cent of 2007 NRL players made their first-grade debuts at 20 or under and 90 per cent at 22 or younger.

The game's administrators point to this fact as proof elite up-and-comers can make a successful transition straight from the Toyota Cup into the NRL.

"This is a common pathway for all players in the competition now, from which they can make their way into the NRL," Toyota Cup manager Michael Buettner said.

"We're not saying this is the only pathway. There's obviously the Queensland Cup and Premier League in NSW, but it's exciting from a Queensland point of view in that we've got the best young footballers in Queensland competing in a competition week-to-week.

"All the next exciting players in the game are going to come through this competition at some stage.

"Whether they go directly from here into the NRL or choose another pathway like the Queensland Cup, it provides a common pathway."

Buettner is confident fans will embrace the new concept, a first for professional sport in Australia.

"It's great value for fans," he said.

"They get the opportunity now to go to games and see the same teams competing in two games, which is a huge plus, and it's also bragging rights for them.

"They get to see the next Johnathan Thurston or Matt Bowen coming through this competition.

"From that perspective, it's a huge plus, and for the game in general to put on show our most exciting young players week in, week out.

"The beauty from this competition is a guy like Israel Folau is still eligible to compete. So for whatever reason, bad form or injury, he's still eligible and I'm sure fans would like to see that as well."

The NRL recently hosted a two-day induction camp on the Gold Coast for players from Brisbane, North Queensland, the Titans and the Warriors as its preparations continue to amp up for the inaugural Toyota Cup.

Last month Roach lashed out at the concept, declaring: "I hate it. No forward in the history of the game has ever made it at 20. You learn the craft from the older blokes."

Roach's viewpoint seems to be shared by Queensland clubs Brisbane and the Gold Coast, who will ensure their fringe players -- particularly forwards -- continue to serve their apprenticeships in the state league.

But the NRL responded by pointing out that leading props such as Willie Mason, Roy Asotasi, Steve Price, Nathan Cayless and Carl Webb all made their debuts at 20 or younger.

With Roach wanting the age barrier to be extended to under-23, the NRL is open to a review after 2008, with its rationale for the under-20 cut off next season to ensure the competition remains "elite".

Murray has been another long-term critic of the under-20 concept, labelling it a "disaster for the game" and warning it will handicap, not advantage, promising young players.

The format for the under-20s game was ratified at this week's NRL CEOs' conference in the Hunter Valley.

The games will kick off two hours before first grade and will be contested over 40-minute halves, with no golden-point provision.
Israel Falou at the Sports AwardsYOUNG PERFORMER: ISRAEL FOLAU
ani - oft
AT THE beginning of the NRL season Israel Folau was on a contract worth just $35,000, but after a stunning debut year the teenage sensation's next deal is set to be worth about 10 times that amount.

Not even listed among the Storm players profiled in the main section of the NRL's 2007 media guide, Folau played every game for Melbourne and starred in the club's 34-8 grand final defeat of Manly.

The youngest player to represent Australia when he made his Test debut against New Zealand in Wellington on October 14 aged 18 years and 194 days, Folau was named Young Performer of the Year at last night's inaugural Herald Sports Performer Awards at the SCG.

He received the award from two-time world boxing champion and former NRL star Anthony Mundine, after edging out Australian Open junior tennis winner Brydan Klein, swimmer Emily Seebohm and cyclist Josephine Tomic.

Initially setting himself the goal of playing just one NRL match for the Storm this year, Folau surpassed his and the club's wildest expectations after starring on debut when called in for injured winger Steve Turner in the season-opening match against Wests Tigers.

Folau's match-winning try was to be his first in a club-record 21 for the season, and his potency in attack eventually prompted Storm coach Craig Bellamy to shift him to the centres.

"My goal at the start of the year was to play one game but I did a lot more than that, so I'm pretty stoked," he said upon being presented with his award last night. "I want to take the same attitude into next year and I'm not going to take anything for granted."

After his remarkable season, Folau's signature is currently the most sought after in the NRL as clubs vie for his services in 2009. Folau's manager Isaac Moses said at last night's awards that he planned to fly to Melbourne soon to open negotiations.

Israel Folau to ensure their wonder kid doesn't leave Melbourne.
Hot property... The Storm are set to hold talks with Israel Folau to ensure their wonder kid doesn't leave Melbourne.

THE Melbourne Storm have no time left to bask in their premiership win as they face potentially an even tougher struggle to keep their team together - starting with teenage superstar Israel Folau.

The new Test winger is under contract for next season, but the 18-year-old will receive $400,000-plus offers to lure him away from the Storm.

A meeting between Folau's management and Storm officials has been scheduled for early next month. Test lock Dallas Johnson remains the other priority signing.

Complicating salary cap matters is the fact Melbourne were forced to outlay $100,000 in representative bonuses after last Sunday's Test against New Zealand.

"It's going to be a challenge, it's not easy to manage,'' Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.

"Hopefully they love to play here and enjoy the culture and the environment that we've built up.

"I'd like to think they could take a bit less to stay at a club that has a strong tradition when it comes to success and developing a player.''

Just days after grand final hero Clint Newton was forced to quit the NRL, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal prop Garrett Crossman has informed club officials he will join Newton in the English Super League.

Confirmation of Crossman's two-year deal with Hull KR continues the recent trend of premiership-winning sides being dismantled.

Since 2003, 41 players have been forced out over the two years following their club's title victory as a result of the salary cap.

Melbourne have lost Newton, Crossman, Matt King, James Aubusson and Ben Cross for next year. Further success in 2008 would make it that much harder to keep the players they want, with Folau and Johnson sure to be in demand and the subject of big-money offers.

Folau is also likely to receive interest from rugby union.

Bellamy is only too aware of the weighty challenge ahead, admitting the loss of five players for next year had already taken its toll.

"It's a fair culture here, so there's always pain involved when you lose players that have been a part of that,'' Bellamy said.

"Clint and Garrett were both popular characters at the club and were also highly valued by the staff ... but that's what the cap does.

"I still can't get my head around Matt King. To me he's currently the best centre in the game, yet he's still improving because he was a late starter.

"But here we are, forced to let him go overseas.

"Look at the Broncos this year, it happened to them and also the Tigers.

"It's something that happens to every side, so we've just got to manage it the best we can.''

Bellamy claimed the NRL's salary cap dispensation for players who have served eight years or longer at the one club was flawed.

"How many players are in the game for eight years let alone one club these days? It's something that could be looked at,'' he said.
Israel Falou & Dave Taylor on thee '06 AIS Tour
Young talent... Israel Folau & Dave taylor 2006 on tour with the AIS

THE success of Melbourne Storm sensation Israel Folau has highlighted the strength of the Australian Rugby League's high performance unit, which is run jointly with the Australian Institute of Sport.

Folau, who in last Sunday's Test against New Zealand became the youngest player to represent the Kangaroos, was a member of the AIS/ARL program in 2005-06.

Brian Johnson, coach of the high performance unit, said he'd always had a high opinion of Folau, but even he could not have predicted the teenage star's dramatic rise within the game.

"He was very talented, very athletic and good on his feet, but to become the youngest Kangaroo in his debut NRL season is just staggering,'' Johnson said.

"His skills for a man of his size are just remarkable and he still hasn't stopped growing.

"I remember him taking two finger-tip marks while playing for the Australian Schoolboys in France and they were the two best catches you'll ever see in your life.

"It's just very satisfying to watch him play and know the AIS-ARL program played a role in his development.''

Folau is not the first player to graduate from the institute's rugby league program and make an impact in the NRL.

Brisbane Broncos giant David Taylor, who enjoyed a stunning NRL debut this year, and the Roosters' Mitchell Aubusson joined Folau at the AIS in 2005.

This year's squad has several players, including Ryan Hansen, Ben Hunt, Daniel Mortimer, Ryan Williamson and Jake Friend, who are members of the Australian Schoolboys.

Johnson predicts the success of the program will see several of his players join Folau and co in the NRL ranks.

"There is no doubt that some of our players will become future first-grade stars - which ones will be hard to tell,'' Johnson said.

"Our scholarship players who are in the Australian Schoolboys team are the kids at the top of the tree but there are others who will be looking for NRL contracts.''

The AIS-ARL squad will be touring France and England from November 10.
Israel Folau charges towards the line against New Zealand yesterday. Picture: Brett Costello
Storming Aussie: Israel Folau charges towards the line against New Zealand yesterday. Picture: Brett Costello

ISRAEL FOLAU became the youngest Test player in Australia's history yesterday - and he wasted no time making his mark.

With the Kangaroos leading 6-0 after 15 minutes at Westpac Stadium, the 18-year-old slipped into dummy-half and left a trail of destruction in his wake.

It was brutal. The hapless Kiwis had no answer as Folau treated them like tenpins.

His big legs kept pumping and defenders kept falling.

Folau began his one-man demolition job by brushing off ill-fated Kiwi five-eighth Ben Roberts.

He then used brute power to force his way between another two New Zealand defenders, including captain Roy Asotasi, before swatting aside Roberts for a second time.

Folau finished his 20m rampage by carrying childhood friend Krisnan Inu over the try-line.

"When I got through all I was thinking about was that white line," Folau said.

"Obviously I dreamed of this. To play in a Test match and get a few tries gives me a lot of confidence.

"To get a try like that in a Test match is unbelievable."

Folau has been compared to a young Mal Meninga. And given the way he tormented the New Zealand defence yesterday, it is easy to see why.

He already weighs in excess of 100kg and continues to grow. Never mind the fact he runs like the wind, has hands like baseball mits and is a model player off the field.

"He's a footballer," coach Ricky Stuart said.

"He's got exceptional skill. He's also got a lot of growing to do. He's very much a boy around the chest and shoulders.

"He's easy to coach. He does not have a problem with training and putting the effort in. He's hassle-free, which is good for a coach especially when he's such a great talent."

Folau's Melbourne and Australia captain Cameron Smith also lauded his young team-mate's performance.

"He's a big, strong kid," Smith said. He's put a lot of hard work into his football this year. Not many 18-year-olds can do what he's done this year."

What Folau has done is set a benchmark for the next superstar to emerge from the NRL ranks.

He broke Melbourne's rookie try-scoring record by crossing for 21 tries, winning Dally M Rookie of the Year in the process.

He added two more tries yesterday as Australia thrashed New Zealand 58-0.

While his first effort was all power, his second try in the 31st minute showcased his speed and football brain.

Folau swooped on a perfectly weighted cross-field kick from halfback Cooper Cronk and cruised over.

"The coach said just go out there and play the way I have been playing all year," Folau said.

"That's what I was thinking going out there. I have learnt a lot from all the senior blokes. It's been great for me, especially being the youngest in the side.

"I have learnt heaps this week."

Folau has another year to run on his contract with the Storm and the club has already foreshadowed talks with a view to extending that deal for years to come.

Apart from the interest of rival clubs, the only thing likely to stand in its way is Folau's religion. A devout Mormon, he is yet to decide whether he will take two years off at the end of 2008 to complete his missionary work.

Because of their religious beliefs, Folau's parents were unable to watch their son make his Test debut yesterday.

And the teenager admitted it had been difficult to balance football with his religious beliefs and the prospect of taking time off to further those beliefs.

"I have one more year with the Storm," he said.

"I am focusing on football next year. I'm still thinking about my mission as well but that's something for the future.

"For me, I guess it's pretty tough. I have been brought up with religion since I was born. It's pretty tough not to think about it."
Australia coach Ricky Stuart yesterday confirmed boom rookie Israel Folau would make his Test debut on the wing and insisted he had no fears about the 18-year-old marking Kiwi giant Taniela Tuiaki in Wellington on Sunday.

Stuart yesterday finalised his line-up for the one-off Test and said Folau would play on the right wing, with Melbourne teammate Greg Inglis shifting to centre. Dallas Johnson comes into the starting line-up in place of injured lock Paul Gallen.

The New Zealand side was announced last night, with rookie Dragons schoolboy Chase Stanley and back-rower Louis Anderson dropping out of the 19-man squad named last week.

"That's what I predicted," Stuart said. "Israel will play on the right wing, which he is comfortable with, but Tuiaki and Luke Covell are both left wingers so I'm not sure what they'll do there … but it really doesn't matter too much to us."

New Kiwis coach Gary Kemble has paired Steve Matai and Paul Whatuira in the centres, while Simon Mannering is in the back row.

South Sydney halfback Jeremy Smith and Bulldogs five-eighth Ben Roberts are the halves combination, with Parramatta's Krisnan Inu at fullback. Wests Tiger Dene Halatau will start at hooker and David Faiumu will come off the bench.

New Zealand captain Roy Asotasi and Parramatta's Fuifui Moimoi will start in the front row, with Warriors rookie Sam Rapira and Melbourne's Jeff Lima joining Shontayne Hape on the interchange bench. Penrith's Frank Pritchard and Storm forward Jeremy Smith are the other back-rowers.

The Kiwis assembled in Auckland on Friday and, in a bid to overtake Australia as the world's premier league nation within four years, have taken the benchmark step of combining their junior representatives with the senior Test stars in training sessions - a move they are sure will be copied by their rivals. Some of New Zealand's most exciting young talent, such as Masada Iosefa and Eddie Paea, have been running with and against Asotasi, Inu and co over the past three weeks.

The training sessions also included Kiwi shadow squad members such as Tigers back-rower Ben Te'o and prop Bronson Harrison, Dragons hooker Rangi Chase and Souths livewire Issac Luke.

Also involved were Rabbitohs second-rower David Kidwell and Roosters fullback Sam Perrett, who will join Brisbane's Greg Eastwood, Warriors forward Epalahame Lauaki and Wigan halfback Thomas Leuluai in an extended squad for the upcoming tour of England.

The idea was formulated between Junior Kiwis selector Mark Horo and Kiwis selector Darrell Williams.

"I think Australia are still going to be a force over the next two to four years in the international game, but if we keep developing like we are and keep putting the pressure on we will overtake them," Horo said.

"[Combining the two squads] was more of an accident, both of us were trying to put each of our squads together and we thought at the time, it's probably important that we can do this together. I think it's massive, and it's a great opportunity for the Junior Kiwis."


MELBOURNE sensation Israel Folau will replace Justin Hodges in the Australia side to face New Zealand, after the Brisbane centre was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Hodges failed to pass his medical examination when Kangaroos coach Ricky Stuart's squad assembled in Sydney today ahead of the one-off Test in Wellington on Sunday week.

Coach Ricky Stuart said Folau was being summoned from Melbourne as the replacement after originally being named in the Junior Kangaroos to tour New Zealand.

Folau was considered an unlucky omission when the Australian team was named on Monday, a day after helping the Storm to their crushing NRL grand final victory over Manly.

"Obviously I've had a big season and to get called up to the Australian side just really topped the year off," Folau said.

"My first goal was to try and play one first grade game at the start of the year so to get all this... is a dream come true."

Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who broke the good news to Folau, said the teenager's stunning season "doesn't happen to too many 18-year-olds."

"And he started the season as a 17 year-old," Bellamy said.

"He's developed a lot quicker than we expected ... the more challenges that kept getting thrown in front of him, the better he got."

It's not certain which position Folau, centre or wing, will play in his Test debut as Storm teammate Greg Inglis could be moved in to centre.

Folau will link up with the rest of the Kangaroos when they arrive in camp in Saturday before flying out for the October 14 Test in Wellington on Monday morning.

The Melbourne centre had originally been selected to take part in the Junior Kangaroos tour of the south pacific, which was to culminate in a game against the Junior Kiwis as a curtain raiser to the

Australian coach Ricky Stuart said he had not yet made his mind up where the talented 18-year-old would line-up in green in good, with speculation that he could be put on the wing with Storm teammate Greg Inglis moving closer to the action at centre.

“I'll play that out when I get to talk to Israel, but it won't be a big thing. I just want to sit down and talk about where he's comfortable playing,” Stuart said.

“His form has shown that he can handle it physically, I've spoken to his coach Craig Bellamy, he's got no doubt about him handling the game.”

The Australians had their first training run at the Sydney Football Stadium, the light session giving the five Storm players already in the squad a chance to run out a few cobwebs following several days of heavy celebrations following Sunday night's grand final win over Manly.

Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart took part in the session, removing any doubt over his availability after being knocked out early in the second half of the NRL decider. The squad will disband following today's session before regathering on Saturday.


PRIZED rookie Israel Folau has declared his allegiance to Melbourne Storm, quashing suggestions he wanted to return to Brisbane, or go anywhere else, at the end of his current contract.

Folau, the 2007 rookie of the year and leading try-scorer in his first season, capped his meteoric rise in the NRL with a premiership on Sunday night.

There was a suggestion from his Brisbane-based family last week that Folau, 18, was homesick and would consider a move to the Broncos, the club he supported as a child, at the end of next season. But Folau quashed that speculation on Monday.

"I love playing in Melbourne, I love the boys, the club's like a family to me, so I wouldn't want to leave the club," Folau said.

"I know, with the great team we have here, we will continue to work hard and obviously try to get back to the same spot we got to this year."

Folau, a Mormon who is still considering undertaking a two-year religious mission at the end of next year, credited his amazing rise in first-grade to the teachings of Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

He said Bellamy had managed to pick him up at halftime in the grand final after a defensive lapse allowed Manly centre Steve Matai to cut Melbourne's lead to six points with a try moments before the break.

"He told me that if I made a mistake, don't worry about it," Folau said. "Craig just got my head back up and I went out there in the second half and went better. It's like a dream. This time last year I was finishing high school."

Melbourne is expected to try to open contract talks with Folau's manager Isaac Moses in the off-season. Rugby union is likely to chase the teen with Matt Marshall
Israel Falou on the burst Vs Broncos 2007STORM'S FOLAU FACES TOUGH TEST

MELBOURNE Storm centre Israel Folau faces one of the toughest match-ups of his young career in this Sunday's National Rugby League preliminary final against Parramatta when he marks the Eels' in-form centre, Timana Tahu.

That was the assessment of Folau's fellow centre, Matt King, who said the match-up would be a key to winning the game.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy praised Folau's performance against Tahu — bound for the NSW Waratahs in rugby union's Super 14 next season — after the Storm's 14-10 win in round 23.

King was certain 18-year-old Folau had gained enormous confidence from that match. "Israel's a very talented kid and he takes everything in his stride," King said.

"I dare say he would have taken a few pointers on how to handle him from that night and hopefully he can take that in Sunday … Israel's probably got the biggest one-on-one job in our team to handle Timana.

I reckon (Tahu) is the best centre-left in the four teams, so Israel's got a big job to do."

Eels half-back Tim Smith has been carrying a shoulder injury and Bellamy said yesterday he could expect a workout from the Storm's forward pack.

"I'm sure his shoulder's probably not 100 per cent but at the end of the day, if it was that bad, he probably he wouldn't be playing," Bellamy said.

"We're not going to chase him all over the field but if he's around, we'll probably run some people into him."

However, Parramatta coach Michael Hagan said the Bulldogs had failed to rattle the half-back in last Saturday night's 26-6 victory despite a similar pre-game threat.

"We're confident he can get the job done, otherwise he won't be playing," Hagan said.

Storm captain Cameron Smith said a fit Greg Inglis, who missed the qualifying final against Brisbane because of a cork high on his back, would lift the side.

"He certainly makes everyone around him a lot more confident," Smith said. "When you need those special things to come out, he can do them."

Bellamy said he was expecting the Eels, with one of the competition's most sizeable and athletic back three in Eric Grothe, Jarryd Hayne and Krisnan Inu, to launch a bombing assault to Storm's flanks.

"We won't be changing a whole heap but their back three are very athletic and very good under the high ball," Bellamy said. "They got back into the game last time we played them, which was only a month ago … so I imagine they'll be looking to go it again."

Hagan disagreed. "That was spoken about last week against (the Bulldogs) but we probably didn't see too many of those, to be honest," he said.

"That may be part of what we do but it's not going to be a huge focus of what we do this week.

The Melbourne (back three) are all quality players … they've got a lot of speed and skill in what they do, so I don't think we've got a lot of advantage there, to be totally honest."

Hayne tried to turn the heat up on the Storm by declaring last year's runner-up was under enormous pressure to go one better.

Asked if he thought anything less than a premiership this year would be seen as a huge disappointment for the Storm, he went straight for the jugular.

"They're carrying so much pressure, which is probably good for us," Hayne said.

"Pressure can get to people sometimes and hopefully it gets to them and we can fly under the radar.

It (pressure) makes it hard, that's what I'm saying. If things don't work out, it can get to you."
Israel Folau may turn his back on league for two years to follow his religion.
Dillemma...Israel Folau may turn his back on league for two years to follow his religion.

MELBOURNE sensation Israel Folau is poised to walk away from his burgeoning rugby league career to pursue a two-year long Mormon mission overseas.

Arguably the hottest prospect unearthed this season, the deeply religious 18-year-old has told The Daily Telegraph he could temporarily quit the game in just over 12 months.

"You've got be 18 or 19 to do the mission, so I guess it's something I'm thinking about along with my football career," Folau said.

"I've still got to make a decision about it for next year. It's possible I could do it next year."

Having burst on to the scene with 20 tries in his debut season, Folau is a hot tip to be crowned Rookie of the Year at next Tuesday nights Dally M Awards.

Carried out on thunderous thighs, his feats have prompted comparison with the great Mal Meninga.

But when it comes to fulfilling one of his religion's most fundamental requirements, the rampaging three-quarter isn't fazed by the stardom that awaits.

Should Folau decide to spread the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from next year, it is likely his mission will start after the season because he is contracted with the Storm until 2008.

"It's not something we have to do - it's up to the individual whether they go," Folau explained.

"Some of my brothers have done it, so there is a bit of pressure to go. My mum reckons I should go.

"I'll have to spend two years promoting the Mormon religion in another country or around Australia.

"It's something I've always planned to do, but now football has come along. At the end of the day it's entirely my decision whether I go or not."

Melbourne recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan - who scouted Folau in Brisbane three years ago - confirmed the mission could be imminent.

"It might happen next year - that is a possibility," O'Sullivan said.

Folau's best mate is Parramatta's Krisnan Inu - a fellow rookie star and Mormon.

The pair attended the same church in Sydney's south-west as children and, like Folau, Inu is also giving serious thought to suspending his career to complete the mission.

Folau said the pair had "not talked much" about undertaking the trip together.

It is understood Inu was intent on leaving before the current season and had to be convinced by Eels officials to stay.

Storm CEO Brian Waldron is similarly keen to retain Folau beyond next season.

"I think Israel is incredibly important, not only to Melbourne, but also rugby league," Waldron said. "To grow the profile of the game we need heroes and there's no doubt Israel is developing a cult following on the back of what he has achieved this year."
Big future...Israel Folau.
Big future...Israel Folau.

I WAS on the phone to Melbourne Storm talent scout Peter O'Sullivan yesterday discussing Israel Folau's five-star performance against the Bulldogs on Friday night.

I've asked Sully, a man who has been responsible for Melbourne's amazing stockpile of young players, where Israel sat compared with the many other mega-talented footballers he has recruited, which includes players such as Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk.

O'Sullivan replied without hesitation that Folau is the best.

If that wasn't a big enough wrap, O'Sullivan went on to say, "Matty, this kid is going to be better than Mal Meninga".

I asked him to repeat it. He said again, "Israel Folau will be better than Mal".

O'Sullivan first spotted Folau at the Australian Schoolboys U15 Championships in Toowoomba.

Peter said he was tall, very gangly and, while he had talent, he didn't think he had just spotted the next Immortal.

In fact, he wasn't nearly the best player in the Queensland team.

When I asked Peter how they won the chase to sign Israel, he laughed and replied that Melbourne was the only club in the race.

It wasn't until Folau turned 16 that O'Sullivan knew the Storm had signed someone very special.

That gangly frame started to fill out, his thighs now resembling tree trunks and his hips bearing an enormous power base.

While everyone at the club was marvelling at the talents of Slater, Cameron Smith and new boy Inglis, O'Sullivan knew the best was yet to come.

Leading into this season, Craig Bellamy's plan for Folau was to bring him on slowly, using the Greg Ingis blueprint.

Inglis was ready for fulltime first grade probably 12 months before he became a regular, but Bellamy resisted the temptation and let him develop in the low-pressure environment of the Queensland Cup.

The problem with Folau, however, was that during the pre-season he was doing things that forced Bellamy to fast-track him.

In one training session where Cooper Cronk kicked to the corners for his wingers, Folau leapt half a body length above Greg Inglis to score a try and then only a kick or two later, he did the same to Matt King.

King commented that he needed a stepladder to compete against the young lion.

Folau's form in the trial games guaranteed him a spot in the team.

In the trial against Manly, he played opposite Jamie Lyon and was absolutely outstanding.

Craig Bellamy let Folau settle into first grade on the wing, where his impact was immediate.

However, it wasn't until the second half of the year, when Bellamy moved him to the centres, that Folau exploded.

Two weeks ago, Folau faced his biggest test, marking Timana Tahu, and in my opinion did the best defensive job I've ever seen anyone do on the brilliant Parramatta centre.

And, of course, last Friday night his hat-trick of tries, against the Bulldogs no less, was the crowning glory of his career so far.

Friday night showcased all his talents, speed, immense strength, power, skills and awareness.

If they were to pick a squad to go on a Kangaroo tour like days gone by, young Israel would probably have got a seat on the plane to give him a taste of what lies ahead.

Israel Folau is great for our game. The similarities between him and Meninga are obvious.

Folau is going to get bigger and he's going to get better and, like Mal, he has enormous presence.

And he is just as impressive off the field.

A Mormon, he doesn't drink or smoke and therefore looks unlikely to be derailed by many of the temptations that his profile will present.

In fact, at the Melbourne Storm a tradition among the players is that when someone scores their first try in first grade, in the sheds afterwards that player is handed a beer which he's expected to skol.

When Israel was handed the cold can, he blushed and turned to his father who was in the sheds.

His father shook his hand and the young man settled for a Gatorade.

Israel Folau, the best is yet to come.

New skill: Melbourne Storm's Israel Folau practises his kicking for goal at Princes Park yesterday. On Sunday at 3pm in Round 22 he will face the Brisbane Broncos at Olympic Park. Picture: Colleen Petch
Sun Herald
MAY, 2004. Melbourne Storm recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan, clipboard in hand, is sitting in an old timber stand in Toowoomba, south-west Queensland.

A "big, gangly, unco-ordinated fella" catches the eye of rugby league's No. 1 recruiter.

The player -- rookie sensation Israel Folau -- was just 15 at the time.

Fast forward three years, and O'Sullivan has watched Folau transform from a promising winger who terrorised opposition school kids to a blockbuster centre capable of running over some of the game's best defenders in the world's most brutal contact sport.

Case in point came on Monday.

Much like Sonny Bill Williams, every time Folau, 18, touches the ball, time just seems to stop.

The split second where the defensive team stops to wonder what Folau will do is all the time he needs to get on the front foot and steamroll over them. Either that or he puts the ball under his wing and runs around them.

The Sharks experienced that first hand when Folau scored his 16th try of the season on Monday night.

His 54th-minute try, his third in four games since switching from the wing to the centres, put the Storm ahead on the scoreboard for the first time. It eventually won 17-16.

Folau's show of power and determination came despite the Sharks making no secret of the fact they would test the teenage whiz's defence.

Israel Falou Vs Sharks kicking for goal"He's only 18 so teams are going to target him, but another year or two and teams will be running the other way," warned O'Sullivan, the only recruitment manager who showed an interest in Folau at the Queensland under-15s championship three years ago.

Storm veteran Matt Geyer joined O'Sullivan in warning rival teams against aiming at Folau.

The former Australian schoolboys star has put on 7kg since his arrival at the start of the year and, in the words of coach Craig Bellamy, now looks like a "man amongst men" at a bulky 99kg.

"He's just keeps growing and it's great to see," Geyer said.

"Obviously he's going to be a star -- if he's not already.

"He works hard on his game. He knows that he has deficiencies and he works on them.

"I don't think targeting him is the answer because he's going to be rock solid for us. He's one of our weapons and he's just blossomed unbelievably."

Folau, who showed off a new skill against the Sharks -- goal kicking -- admitted the move into the centres was tough.

"Going in the centres, you get a bit more ball and a bit more space," said Folau, who kicked two sideline conversions against the Sharks.

"But there are areas I need to work on -- especially in defence.

"On the wing you might make about five tackles a game, but in the centres I might be making up to 15 or 20 tackles a game. It's been pretty tough.

"I'm trying to get used to it. I have to get used to going in and getting the ball and getting a few touches."

Folau is likely to mark up on unheralded Brisbane centre Nick Emmett at Olympic Park on Sunday.

Emmett is expected to have his hands full after being tormented in a pre-season trial match between the teams. Storm scored several tries down his side of the field, occupied by Folau and Matt King, in the 46-0 win.

Ironically, Brisbane was the only other team to express interest in Folau at age 15 -- a month after the Storm had signed him. He's another Queensland product snatched by Melbourne from under the Broncos' noses.

Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Dallas Johnson have all gone on to represent the Maroons in State of Origin.
Israel Falou is tackled in the air by Brisbane youngster Steve Michaels in the NRL clash at Olympic Park in Melbourne. Pic: Colleen Petch / News Limited picture
FLYING Falou . . . Melbourne teenager Israel Falou is tackled in the air by Brisbane youngster Steve Michaels in the NRL clash at Olympic Park in Melbourne. Pic: Colleen Petch / News Limited picture

"IT ain't over" was the clear message from the defending premier's camp last night after Brisbane showed it still has the firepower to bruise its way to another finals series.

While the undermanned Broncos fell short of a stunning upset of arch-nemesis Melbourne at Olympic Park yesterday, they showed with a near all-international pack still at their disposal they are not about to hoist the white flag on season 2007.

As the dust settled on yesterday's enthralling 14-6 battle, which at times threatened to break into all-out war, Broncos skipper Petero Civoniceva assembled his men in an emotional huddle. He told them a similar effort in the final three weeks of the season would have the Broncos back in the title hunt.

"We knew coming here today we needed to play a physical game," Civoniceva said. "Every time we play Melbourne that's what we are in for. I just pulled them together at the end to tell them how proud I was of them."

"We just played the team everyone is saying will be holding the trophy up in a couple of months' time and we were right in it.

"I was so proud of all of them. Our senior blokes were tremendous, but so were all our young guys. I'm pretty sick of all the talk around about our injuries and how we are supposedly finished. We are putting 17 guys out there every week and they are giving their all."

Already missing the talents of Brent Tate, Darren Lockyer, Shaun Berrigan, Karmichael Hunt and Tonie Carroll, the Broncos lost another international yesterday when Greg Eastwood was buckled over and strained his medial ligament. Medical staff were hopeful he will miss no more than a week.

An upbeat Wayne Bennett said yesterday's performance showed the Broncos were still in the fight for a finals spot.

"We have played three of the top sides in the last four weeks and done a hell of a job," Bennett said. "Other people are saying we can't do this and that. But we aren't making an issue of our problems. We are just going out each week and doing our best. We have played most of the top teams now and been competitive and we know we are just going to get better from here.

"If we can just keep this team together, and we might have lost Eastwood today, but we get some coming back – if I could keep this 17 fit for the next three weeks I am happy. If I can keep them together, get them to play with each other each week, they will build some confidence."

Carroll is a strong chance of returning against the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night and Hunt should be back the following week.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said it would be premature to suggest the Broncos, who last night sat in seventh spot, would not be around and a force in September.

"Everyone is saying how they would be a better team with Lockyer, Berrigan and Hunt, which is right," Bellamy said. "But you look at their forward pack, and take out Mick Roberts and they are all Origin or Australian players. Then they have Eastwood playing five-eighth and Justin Hodges who is just a great player.

"He causes problems every time he gets the footy. So I don't see why they can't make it."

Certainly yesterday the Broncos matched stride with Melbourne in most departments. Early on it was an arm wrestle and that suited the Broncos to a tee. It was only when they needed points in the back end of the game that they struggled to go with the competition hot pots.

The class of Storm five-eighth Greg Inglis and Israel Folau provided the only two tries before the break.

MELBOURNE 14 (G Inglis I Folau M Geyer tries C Smith goal) bt BRISBANE 6 (N Emmett try C Parker goal) at Olympic Park. Referee: S Hampstead. Crowd: 13,508.

Israel Falou with his match winning tryISRAEL TRY GETS STORM OVER LINE

MELBOURNE Storm rookie Israel Folau dashed South Sydney spirits with another match-winning try last night as the premiership favourites claimed a hard-fought 12-8 win at Bluetongue Stadium.

But the win was tempered by a leg injury to representative prop Brett White as the club's injury crisis deepened.

White was helped off the field by two trainers in the 70th minute when his left leg buckled in a tackle by Rabbitohs forward Luke Stuart.

He alleviated some of the concern by jogging along the sideline before full-time to suggest the injury was not as bad as first suspected.

Folau's 13th try of the season got the Storm out of jail after the Rabbitohs threatened to cause one of the upsets of the season.

He caught a James Aubusson banana kick on his wing before beating Nathan Merritt and Shannon Hegart to cross in the corner.

Cameron Smith's conversion with seven minutes remaining sealed the win.

The Storm trailed 8-0 at half-time after South produced some Melbourne-like defence.

Matt King scored in the 59th minute, from another Aubusson kick, to close the gap to two points before Folau put it beyond doubt.

Folau, 18, was set to play Queensland Cup this weekend in his comeback from a hamstring injury but was recalled following the fallout from the State-of-Origin series.

Melbourne had Smith, King and Ryan Hoffman backing up, while Dallas Johnson and Greg Inglis were ruled out with injuries.

Souths, inspired by David Peachey's mid-week announcement this would be his final season, scored the only tries of the first half, through Yileen Gordon and Nathan Merritt down the same side of the field.

Gordon's was special.

A late inclusion for Shane Rigon, Gordon shrugged off a Smith tackle close to the line after being put into a gaping hole by a spectacular behind-the-back pass from Ben Rogers.

Rogers drew Anthony Quinn and Clint Newton before throwing the right-handed pass that hit Gordon on the chest.

Merritt missed the conversion attempt, but made up for it soon after with a try three minutes from the break.

Rogers again threw the last pass after getting on the outside of Quinn.

Melbourne's kicking game in the first half was woeful without regular halves pairing Cooper Cronk and Inglis.

Inglis is sidelined for at least a fortnight with a knee injury while Cronk was a late withdrawal after failing a fitness test on his injured ankle yesterday morning.

Melbourne was also missing Johnson (concussion and knee), Antonio Kaufusi (knee) and Michael Crocker (shoulder).

The Storm launched six attacking kicks from deep inside the Rabbitohs' half before the break.

Five were defused in-goal. The other, kicked by Smith in the 22nd minute, was picked up by Will Chambers, who crossed the try-line, only to be denied by video referee Graeme West.

West ruled Storm centre Quinn had knocked the ball in a mid-air contest with Merritt.

Melbourne full-back Billy Slater showed no lack of confidence in his return from a month long injury-enforced break after a double cheekbone fracture in Round 11.
Israel falou
On any Sunday ... Israel Folau is only permitted to play on Sundays as league is his career. / The Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegrapg
THERE has been plenty said about Israel Folau since Melbourne Storm unleashed the latest sensation off their production line in round one.

The only problem was that, until today, none of it had come from the man himself.

But in an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, Folau, who turned 18 last month, has broken a media ban to open up about life as a first-grade rugby league player – and as a devout Mormon.

"I honestly didn't think I was going to play first grade this year," confides Folau, who catches a tram from Southbank to and from the club's training base at Carlton every day.

"To go from playing colts (Brisbane under-19s) last year to first grade this year is a massive step up. "I'm still trying to get used to the pace of the game, and how physical it is. But I love playing up in first grade. I thought maybe when rep duty came around, I thought I might get a run or two, but I never expected to play round one."

Folau's rise has been more than a welcome surprise for Storm this season. Handed his debut after an ankle injury to Steve Turner, Folau, a former Australian Schoolboy star who grew up in suburban Brisbane, has exceeded all expectations.

He heads the NRL try-scoring list with 10 tries in nine games.

After four games he had scored seven tries.

Not since dual international Mike Cleary jumped codes from rugby union in 1962 has a rookie had such a try-scoring impact.

Folau, who has pledged his allegiance to Queensland – where he has lived since his early teens – despite being born in NSW, also revealed how much bulk he has added to his sizeable frame since becoming a full-time footballer.

Having arrived as a 92kg prospect, Folau is now a 99kg giant, with the size to match the best wingers in the game.

At 190cm, Folau has the rugby league world at his feet.

The rookie season Folau, who lists his heroes as Allan Langer and Lote Tuqiri, would most likely have started the season in the Queensland Cup, had Turner not suffered the cruel injury.

His parents, Eni and Amelia, were flown down to watch his debut – in which Folau scored the winning try against Wests Tigers.

"I'm still pretty surprised that I've scored 10 tries," he said.

"I never expected to score that many. I'm pretty stoked about it."

Folau said he was happy on the wing – for now. "At the moment I prefer wing, but down the track centres. I've still got heaps to learn in the centres, defensively."

First steps to first grade Folau says he got ahead of himself after being approached by Storm recruitment general manager Peter O'Sullivan at an under-15s state carnival in Toowoomba.

"I was real excited," he said. "I thought I would be playing first grade for sure.

"I'd never experienced anything like that. But Dad said, 'It doesn't mean you're going to play first grade, you've still got to work for it'. I think I got too excited. Dad's been a massive influence on me. He always helped me do extra training after school. He always pushed me further."

Having only started taking the game seriously at 14, Folau said O'Sullivan, who also brought Greg Inglis to Melbourne, had been a tremendous help to his career.

O'Sullivan is set to open talks with his Sydney-based manager Isaac Moses in a bid to secure the talented youngster beyond his current 2008 deal.

"The thing I like about Melbourne is I don't get recognised as you walk down the street," he said.

The ties that bind Folau says homesickness struck him in a big way after moving to Melbourne at the start of the year.

One of six children (five boys and one girl), Folau is extremely close to his parents. He credits his housemates, Melbourne Storm players Sam Tagataese and Pale Ale, with helping him get over the stage.

"When I first came down it was pretty difficult to move down from Brisbane," he said. "I'd just finished school. I was homesick a bit for a while, but now I've gotten used to it."

Folau is only allowed to play sport on a Sunday because it is his career.

"But for anything else, say you're playing colts (under-19s) on a Sunday, I probably wouldn't play," he said.

"Last year one of the colts' game

was on a Sunday and I didn't play. The coach (Trevor Bailey) was asking me why I wasn't and I said it was because of my religion. He understood, so it was good."

Folau is not allowed to drink or smoke and he cannot watch TV on a Sunday.

"Sometimes the boys look at me and say, 'You're a weirdo, mate'," Folau said.

"They think I'm missing out on something. But I haven't tasted it so I don't think I am. I haven't touched it all my life so I don't think I'm missing out on anything."

He is allowed to date, but sex before marriage is outlawed.

"There's been a few (girls) that have come up and asked me out, back home, when I go back to Brissy," he said.

He admits to getting angry when he misses church, which he attends with a friend in Dandenong.

The Bellamy factor The softly spoken Folau admits to feeling intimidated by straight-shooting Storm coach Craig Bellamy when he first arrived in Melbourne.

"I love the way he coaches," Falou said. "He's straight and direct – straight to the point. He doesn't muck around about things. He works well with the players. I still get nervous when he talks sometimes.

"When I first came down I was pretty intimidated when he got animated. But I love the way he coaches."

Union and the World Cup UNLIKE Tuqiri, the former Broncos premiership-winning winger who became the 43rd dual international when he switched to rugby union in 2002, Folau has no intention of pursuing a career in the 15-man code.

"I probably wouldn't," he said.

"I want to stay in league. I prefer league over union. I don't like the way it stops and starts. It seems pretty boring to me."

Folau says he would like to be considered for Tonga should he miss out on the Australian squad for next year's Centenary World Cup. Like Tuqiri (Fiji), Brent Kite (Tonga) and Luke Ricketson (Ireland) before him, Folau would remain eligible to represent Australia should he play for Tonga at the tournament, to be staged in Australia after the 2008 NRL season winds down.

"I probably would play for Tonga if I wasn't picked for the Australian side," he said. "But later down the track I'd love to play for Australia."
Big win... Storm winger Israel Folau crosses for his tenth try of the season (Getty Images)
Big win... Storm winger Israel Folau crosses for his tenth try of the season (Getty Images)
ABC Sport
A measured all-round display from Melbourne half-back Cooper Cronk propelled the Storm to a 38-14 victory over the Bulldogs during their round nine Monday night fixture at Olympic Park.

Cronk starred for Melbourne scoring a first-half brace of tries and setting up several more, as the Storm picked up their eighth win of the season to triumph over the Bulldogs in a match billed as a State of Origin preview.

Storm centre Matt King cemented his spot in the Blues backline with an impressive double of tries with Ryan Hoffman, and Brett White also pressing their claims for Origin selection with solid performances for the home side.

Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri will face an anxious wait by the phone before the Origin sides are announced tomorrow morning with a nervous display in which he picked up a try, was held up for another, let in a try on his wing, and uncharacteristically missed two conversions from three attempts.

Storm and Queensland hooker Cameron Smith meanwhile put his hand up to take over the goal-kicking duties for the Maroons with a perfect display to sink seven goals from as many attempts.
First half

Tries from Darryl Millard and El Masri put the Bulldogs ahead 8-6 in the 13th minute, but sharp play from Cronk and accurate goal-kicking from Smith shot the home side to a 16-point lead at the break.

Cronk took on the line from close range to score underneath the posts in the seventh minute and was awarded the try by video referee Bill Harrigan after it appeared that Bulldogs full-back Luke Patten had been impeded by on-field referee Steve Clark.

The Storm took the lead in the 22nd minute when King powered through the Bulldogs' right-edge defence to burst his way over the tryline.

Cronk was in the thick of the action again 10 minutes later when he sold a dummy at the defensive line to make a half-break before picking up Blues State of Origin hopeful Ryan Hoffman on his outside to score their third try of the half.

Cronk, third in line to the Queensland number seven jersey after incumbent Johnathan Thurston and Gold Coast half-back Scott Prince, then picked up his second try with two minutes remaining in the half when he scurried out of dummy half to barge over the line.

Queensland selectors will face a nervous wait after Storm lock forward Dallas Johnson was placed on report during the 29th minute for a striking offence on Bulldogs lock Reni Maitua that could result in suspension.
Second half

The Bulldogs reduced the gap to 10 points just seven minutes into the second period when an enterprising cross-field play culminated in centre Willie Tonga finding Maitua on his inside to barge over from close range.

Any chance of a comeback was put on hold when King crossed for his second in the 56th minute, before Smith levelled a penalty shot to hand the home side an unassailable 18-point advantage in the 68th minute.

The Storm were awarded the penalty when Patten collared Billy Slater after the former Queensland full-back found space after good build-up work on Melbourne's left-side attack.

Cronk well and truly left his stamp on the match when he set up boom youngster Israel Folau for his 10th try of the campaign with a cross-field bomb that highlighted El Masri's fallibility under the high ball.

Speaking after the match, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy hinted that Slater, despite another outstanding performance adding to his stellar start to the 2007 season, would be overlooked by Queensland selectors for game one but expected Smith, Johnson, and Greg Inglis to be named in the side.

Israel Fulou powers through the Emgland Academy line Dec '06 (Photo : ourfooty media)
Israel Falou smashing the Poms on last years Schoolboys tour Vs BARLA (Photo : ourfooty media)

THERE is a very simple thing that has changed for Melbourne Storm winger Israel Folau since he burst on to the National Rugby League scene this year. The 18-year-old has gone from an unknown to, before the weekend's round-eight clash against Wests Tigers, the competition's leading try-scorer with nine tries.

And, as his reputation has grown, so, too, has the pre-game planning by opposition sides in a bid to curb his influence.

Wayne Treleaven watched both Folau and the other Storm sensation, Greg Inglis, come through the ranks in Brisbane, where he worked until last year as the coach of feeder club Norths Devils.

Treleaven said Folau had adjusted remarkably well from junior footballer to the senior ranks and had caught everyone's attention.

"What happens there is that they watch him. They didn't know about him early (in the season)," Treleaven said.

'All of a sudden, this kid's scoring too many tries and once they know about him, they tend to watch him a little bit more carefully."

Folau certainly has got the attention of the football world this year. Coming hot on Inglis' heels into the senior ranks, Folau has so firmly established himself that the has forced a reshuffle of the team's vaunted back line, with veteran winger Matt Geyer having to move the centres to replace Anthony Quinn.

There had been talk about his performances in the junior ranks within Storm last year, but few expected that the hulking teenager of Tongan heritage, who stands 190 centimetres and 97 kilograms, would make such a quick transition to the NRL.

"He's very strong for his age obviously, (but) I didn't think he was ready for NRL so quick," said Treleaven, who last year chose the then 16-year-old Folau to play for the Queensland under- 19 team.

"But he's certainly surprised a few with the way he's adapted so quickly, which is a credit to Craig (Bellamy) and his staff.

"Once he gets more confidence, you'll see him play a little bit different. He can offload and he's good with the ball in his hands, he can take a high ball, so he'll probably play centre eventually, but at the moment, he's going pretty good.

"He was one of those kids who was a little bit laid-back and did what he had to do in (his) age group. When he needed to do something, he did. He was certainly above all those other kids and everybody knew that."

Former Test forward Mark Geyer is another fan. He believes it will be only a matter of time before people will be looking up to him as a benchmark of the competition.

"I think in five years' time, we're going to have people developing into an Israel Folau," Geyer said.

"I think he's got his own identity. I really don't think there's been another winger who's been like him in the last 10 or 20 years. Just being so young and big and strong and having such a good football brain for a kid his age is unheard of, really. I think he's making his own mark in a big way."

Geyer said he knew little about Folau before the start of the season but it didn't take long for him to be convinced of his ability-which he believed could be enough to carry him to a state-of-origin berth for Queensland this month, with the Maroons' abundance of back-line talent the main obstacle.

"I thought he was just going to be one of these kids who just gets the ball and puts the ball over the line, like (Parramatta Eels' winger) Jarryd Hayne did last year and didn't really do much else," Geyer said.

"But he's proven he's the real deal. He gets in and does the hard runs out of dummy half, which a lot of times goes unnoticed by supporters and fans.

"They're the hardest runs to do when you know you are going to get bashed by the forwards but he puts his hand up once every set of six to do that and that's a hard job.

"I love the way he's adapted to first-grade rugby league. He looks like he was born to play on the wing and I wouldn't have any hesitation in putting him on the wing for the Queensland state-of-origin side."

Former league great Brett Kenny said Folau was looking at a big future, which he would be tempted, if he were a Maroons selector, to fast-forward if the third game of this year's origin series were a dead rubber.

"He shows a lot of maturity for his age," he said.

"He handles the job really well. Obviously he has got a very big future and as long as he can keep his feet firmly on the ground ... I think he's got a bright future.

"I'd be tempted if (Queensland) is 2-nil up or down to put him in and give him a run and give him a little bit of experience but you wouldn't put him into game one."
Flying high.....Melbourne sensation Israel Folau
Flying high.....Melbourne sensation Israel Folau

16/04/07 The youngest player ever to pull on a Kangaroos rugby league jersey, Kerry Boustead, says Storm sensation Israel Folau is a worthy contender for his title.

The former Queensland flyer is predicting an Origin call-up for the recently-turned 18-year-old winger, who is leading the NRL's tryscoring tally.

Folau grabbed the eighth try of his debut NRL season in Melbourne's round five 24-10 win over the Dragons.

Only former Souths winger Les Brennan has had a more prolific start to his first-grade career, posting eight tries in four rounds in 1954.

Of Tongan descent and a devout Mormon, the Campbelltown-born Folau already weighs 100kg, is 190cm tall, and has been compared to a young Mal Meninga or Lote Tuqiri.

His family moved to Queensland when he was 12 and he first represented the state at junior level three years later.

Boustead tipped a Maroons jumper for Folau this year, which would make him the youngest-ever Origin player from either state, and could then lead to his long-standing Test record being broken.

The former Easts, Manly and Norths player became the youngest player to represent Australia in 1978, aged 18 and 310 days.

Folau would have to play in the Kangaroos' only other match this year, the Centenary Test against the Kiwis in Wellington in October, to beat that record.

The youngest-ever Origin debutant was Queensland back Ben Ikin at the age of 18.

"Israel is a very confident player and he's certainly got a lot of good attributes," said Boustead.

"His size, his speed and he obviously learns fairly quickly.

"The other good thing I really like about him is he puts himself in a position, he knows when the tries are on, he's always there at the right time so he's got very good anticipation.

"I think that he could probably handle the (Test) job, it's a matter of whether there's any positions available."

Queensland coach Meninga is keeping a close eye on Folau's progress and said "if he's good enough he'll come into calculations even at that age".

Due to injuries and indifferent form, he used five wingers during last year's series.

The leading Queensland backline contenders this year include Storm teammates Greg Inglis and Billy Slater, Brent Tate, Matt Bowen and Karmichael Hunt.

Boustead, who scored eight tries in his nine Origin appearances, worked with the Queensland wingers last year and said Folau would look right at home.

"I'd love to see him there, and us Queenslanders need all the help we can get," he said.

"We've had a pretty tough couple of years with our wingers, just keeping them all on the paddock, so he'd be great."

But Boustead believed Folau would need a touch of luck to make his Test debut this year.

"I was probably fortunate at the time that I came through that there was a spot available," he said.

"There's a little bit of luck involved and he's going to need an element of that but I'm sure he'd do us proud if he got on the field."

Israel Falou 2 more triies
Israel running the ball for the storm during his record breaking debut NRL season.
Herald Sun
MELBOURNE Storm sensation Israel Folau has produced the most devastating debut month in rugby league in more than four decades.

Folau, who turned 18 last week, took his tally to seven tries in four games this season with a double in the Storm's 22-12 win over Newcastle on Saturday night.

Not since dual international Mike Cleary jumped codes in 1962 has a rookie had such an immediate try-scoring impact.

Cleary also scored seven tries in his first four games in rugby league after a distinguished rugby union career provided him with six Wallabies' caps.

The former NSW Sports Minister and champion sprinter won three premierships with the Rabbitohs and scored 88 tries in 140 career games.

Folau and Cleary are only bettered by another former South Sydney winger, Les Brennan, who scored eight tries in the opening month of competition in 1954, statistics that guru David Middleton confirmed last night.

Brennan went on to score a club-record 29 tries in 19 games that season.

Folau's ability to sniff out a try has spoken volumes, in the absence of an actual voice, about the Brisbane product's unlimited potential.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy has put a media ban on Folau in a bid to keep him away from distractions.

Folau has scored two tries three times this season after an ankle injury to Steve Turner opened the door for him to make his NRL debut.

The destruction he would have caused had he started the season with feeder club Brisbane Norths in the Queensland Cup is unimaginable.

Queensland Origin coach Mal Meninga has already labelled Folau "bigger and stronger" than him at the same stage of his career.

And Maroons selector Gene Miles said Folau had already registered on the Origin radar.

While Folau's star remained on the rise in Newcastle, Greg Inglis is struggling for one of the few times in his career -- starved of ball and without a try in the premiership's opening month.

But Inglis, who scored 18 tries in 19 games last year, warned opponents by declaring: "I won't be quiet the entire season."

Inglis made 26 tackles in his fourth game at five-eighth as ill-discipline and handling errors threatened to cost the Storm its perfect record.

"It was just the way the game went," Inglis said.

"We did so much defence on our own line."

Israel Falou 2 more triies
Israel Falou's 1st try, striding past the Wales U19's & celebrating with his Storm mates

08/04/07 Melbourne Storm have extended their perfect start to the season with a 10-point victory over the Newcastle Knights in their round four NRL clash in Newcastle this evening.

High-flying youngster Israel Folau scored his third double in the 22-12 win to take his try tally to seven for the season as the Storm left the Knights behind in the second stanza after going into the break level.

Folau, a ring-in for injured winger Steve Turner, has made the right flank his own and has been the pick of a high-profile backline in recent weeks, scoring a try either side of the break as the 2006 minor premiers proved too good for a Knights side without talismanic playmaker Andrew Johns.

Melbourne centre Anthony Quinn scored a brilliant try shortly after half-time in his first match against his former club, while Matt King (34th minute) scored the other try for the visitors.

Steve Simpson (18th minute) and Daniel Abraham (24th minute) were the only try-scorers for the Knights, with Kurt Gidley adding two conversions.
First half

Earlier, the Storm were lucky to go into the break at 12-12 after a try to King late in the first period put them back on level terms with the Knights.

Newcastle enforcer Simpson barged over on 18 minutes courtesy of a poor defensive lapse from the Storm, before Abraham then extended the advantage for the Knights six minutes later to make it 12-6.

The Knights should have taken a lead into the break but for a brilliant try-saving effort from Quinn who showed great determination to hold up Adam McDougall in the 30th minute and force a mistake.

Danny Buderus celebrated his long-awaited comeback to football with the Knights and impressed in a showdown with incumbent Test hooker Cameron Smith, who is expected to hold onto his spot for the Anzac Test on Friday week..

Israel Folau is congratulated by Matt King after scoring against the Warriors (Photo: Melb Storm)
Israel Folau is congratulated by Matt King after scoring against the Warriors (Photo: Melb Storm)
STORM coach Craig Bellamy is toying with the idea of including wingers Israel Folau and Steve Turner in his senior squad after both returned two-try hauls on Sunday.

Turner exploded into first-grade calculations with a powerful return from an ankle injury at feeder club Brisbane Norths.

His display could not have come at a better time as Folau steamrolled the New Zealand Warriors with a double of his own.

Folau, 17, took his rookie season tally to five tries in three games in a polished performance.

Bellamy has welcomed the selection headaches for Saturday's away game at Newcastle.

"I thought it was far and away (Folau's) best game," Bellamy said. "He lifted his involvement with the footy and did some great things defensively.

"We had Steve Turner playing in Brisbane and we all know what a good player he is.

"It'll make it a tough decision but I'd rather have those decisions than be trying to find someone."

Bellamy said there was room for both wingers in the squad.

"We did that last week (against Canberra) with young (Ryan) Shortland," he said.

Handed his NRL debut when Turner was injured in a pre-season trial, Folau has gone from strength to strength.

His second try against the Warriors was pure genius as the former Australian Schoolboys star stole the ball out of the hands of opposing winger Manu Vatuvei after a mid-air contest and dived over the try-line.

Melbourne Storm co-captain Cameron Smith agreed there was room for both players in the squad.

"It will be interesting to see what the coach decides with Steve Turner coming back," Smith said.

"You know what you're going to get every week out of Steve. He's a very good player, so, maybe if one starts, one can be on the bench."

Storm second-rower Jeremy Smith had scans yesterday on his left leg after concerns he had suffered a crack in his fibula.

Even if Smith is cleared, he remains in doubt for Saturday's match. Sam Tagataese, 18th man against New Zealand, could make his debut if Smith is ruled out.

Five-eighth Greg Inglis was cleared of an ankle injury after limping off late in the 30-12 win against the Warriors.

The Knights have just five days to prepare for Storm after facing Canberra last night.

"We haven't won many up there," said Cameron Smith, who will face Knights hooker Danny Buderus playing his first game this season after suspension.

"I think we've won only two games in the last four years so it's going to be a tough task for us.

"There are still areas we need to improve on.

"There were a couple of areas in the (Warriors) game where we took the foot off the pedal and let them back into the game."

The future: keeping young stars such as Israel Falou at Storm will be increasingly difficult under the present NRL salary cap system. Picture: Matthew BouwmeesterMELBOURNE DEFENCE STREAKS AHEAD
Heraldsun sunday
COACH Craig Bellamy has praised it and now statistics confirm it - Melbourne Storm has the best defence in the NRL, at this early stage of the season anyway.
Melbourne players have missed the fewest tackles after two rounds of the competition.

Storm has missed just 38 tackles in games against Wests Tigers and Canberra, while premier Brisbane, with 93 missed tackles, has the most porous defence.

Melbourne's defence will need to be watertight in the first half of tomorrow's match at Olympic Park against the NZ Warriors, who are at their most damaging in that stanza.

The unbeaten Warriors have scored 48 of their 58 points this season before halftime.

Bellamy is expected to rejoin the team this morning after attending to a family illness in southern New South Wales.

As an added incentive, the winner will lay claim to the Michael Moore Trophy.

The trophy was created following the death of Moore, a former Storm football manager, who drowned in Auckland harbour.

Former Storm captain Robbie Kearns, now a club ambassador, described Moore's death in 2000 as a "freak accident".

"He was acting the goat, as he always does, the life of the party and a practical joke went wrong," Kearns said. "Anyone who's had a death in the family, that's what it felt like."

Kearns, assistant coach Stephen Kearney, Storm winger Matt Geyer and Warriors centre Tony Martin were all playing for Melbourne when the tragedy occurred.

"It was devastating," Kearns said. "We'd just come off the grand final win the year before.

"It was our first-up game, playing over there, and we were expecting to have another great year, but the death of Mick after the very first game, I don't think we won another game for five or six weeks.

"That was against opposition we should have beat."

Cameron Smith will tomorrow become the 15th Storm player to appear in 100 first grade games.

Star billing ... Storm sensation Israel Folau is being compared to Origin and Test great Mal Meninga. / The Daily TelegraphSTORM STAR JUST LIKE MEL MENINGA
Daily Telegraph
COMPARISONS are already being made between strapping Melbourne Storm teenager Israel Folau and former Queensland and Australian rugby league legend Mal Meninga.

But Meninga, who still owns the record for the most Origin appearances with 32, says the 17-year-old, already in Origin discussions after just two NRL games, is a far more awesome sight than he was when he started in senior ranks.

"He's stronger and bigger than me when I started out," said Meninga.

Queensland selector Gene Miles can see similarities between the 97kg Folau and a young Meninga.

"You could compare them, couldn't you, he's a raw-boned 17-year-old," said Miles, who partnered Meninga in the Maroons centres many times during his own 20 Origin appearances.

Of Tongan descent and born in Sydney, Folau has declared he wants to play Origin football for Queensland, following the path of his Storm teammate, Bowraville (NSW) born Greg Inglis, who made his interstate debut last year as a 19-year-old.

He played under 16s and 19s for Queensland last year, the first player to do so in the same year since former Brisbane forward Allan Cann in the 1980s.

Both Meninga and Miles believe he'll play Origin and neither rules out the possibility he'll surpass Ben Ikin as the youngest player for either state.

"It's a bit like Greg (Inglis) last year," Meninga said.

"If you're good enough you should come into calculations even at that age.

"He's a kid who can win a game in their air for you, both in attack and defensively.

"He just needs a bit more confidence about what he does because he's a big fellow.

"We've got a fair depth in our outside backs but his time will come."

While Inglis was only a teenager when picked last year, Meninga said he displayed a lot of self belief.

"If Israel can have the same sort of traits there's no reason why he can't get selected for Origin at his age," said Meninga.

Miles agreed Folau had all the physical attributes to be a blockbusting player.

"He just looks like an athlete," said Miles, renowned for running over rivals and his magnificent off-loading skills.

"Wing has obviously been a troubled position for us in the last few years.

"I've only seen Folau play two games but he looks a rare talent in the making.

"You know he's well coached and you know Craig Bellamy won't let him get carried away with his efforts."

Meninga allayed fears national team custodian Karmichael Hunt could jeopardise his Origin fullback jumper by playing halfback for the Broncos.

Queensland have an abundance of fullbacks with Hunt, Inglis, Billy Slater and Matt Bowen all candidates.

"There's no reason Karmichael can't play fullback even if he is playing halfback for Brisbane.

"As long as he is playing well and playing with a lot of confidence which you need under the high ball."

Meninga said Queensland had to pick its best 17 players first.

"Most players are very versatile these days," he said.

"Greg (Inglis) is a great example, you want him in your 17.

"But he's playing five-eighth for Melbourne, so does that mean you leave Darren Lockyer out?"

Israel Falou & Mitchell Pearce australian schoolboys 2006 (Photo & ani : ourfooty media)
Israel Falou & Mitchell Pearce australian schoolboys 2006 (Photo & ani : ourfooty media)

MELBOURNE has hatched plans to extend the contract of Israel Folau in a bid to stave off a bidding war for the Storm sensation.

The 17-year-old underscored his talent against Wests Tigers last week, scoring a try on debut in the Storm's 18-16 win.

Rated as gifted as Melbourne teammate Greg Inglis, Folau is off contract at the end of 2008.

The Storm, wary of offers from rival clubs, is keen to secure the hulking outside back for another year.

"We've indicated our interest in extending 'Izzy'. He's a kid we don't want to lose," said Storm recruitment chief Peter O'Sullivan, who signed Folau for $500 at a 2004 Queensland schoolboy carnival.

"He's going to be a 10 or 12-year first grader, I have no doubt about that. It's just his demeanour and his behaviour and the sort of person he is.

"He's more ready to play first grade now than Greg (Inglis) was at the same age, but Greg has so much scope for improvement. They are different footy players."

Folau announced his potential against the Tigers, leaping high for a bomb before pushing off two defenders to post his maiden try in the top flight.

Reared in the western Sydney suburb of Minto, Folau moved to Queensland at 13 and has spent the past three years developing at Storm feeder club Brisbane Norths.

While the 190cm, 97kg powerhouse is content at Melbourne, his manager Isaac Moses wants Folau to focus on terrorising opponents rather than signing new deals.

"Melbourne are keen to extend his contract, but at the moment we're saying, let's sit back and let him play rugby league," said Moses.

"I rang him the other week and said, 'just settle in'. He's only been living in Melbourne for a couple of months."
Try time ... Melbourne Storm's Israel Folau crashes over for a try on debut tonight. The Storm beat the Tigers 18-16. / Herald-SunSTORM PRAYERS ANSWERED

ISRAEL Folau's father claimed his pre-match prayers had been answered after last night's narrow season-opening win over Wests Tigers.

"I prayed for him – he needed some help," Eni Falou said.

The 17-year-old emerged from an hour of being targeted in the NRL season opener when he flew high to claim a Cameron Smith kick in the south-western corner of Olympic Park, his hooker and captain converting for 18-10.

That piece of aerial athleticism and Smith's sharp-shooting were to prove the difference in the gripping contest, Wests Tigers centre Paul Whatuira setting up a grandstand finish when he scored a 67th-minute try to make it 18-16.

"I liked it most when he jumped in the air and grabbed the ball," the quietly spoken Eni, accompanied on the trip from Brisbane by wife Amelia, said. "He was excited."

Falou was said to be too shy to talk afterwards but his feats set a tough mark for the 11 other rookies involved in other games this weekend to match.

Bellamy lauded his latest outside back sensation before calling for protection for his predecessor, 20-year-old Greg Inglis.

The new star made his premiership debut in the pressure-cooker five-eighth position last night and was groggy in the dressing room at halftime after some heavy hits.

"If it's legal, yeah, he'll have to get used to it," Bellamy said.

"But I thought he copped a couple of high shots.

"They're pretty easy to see when he's on the ground and people come in over the top and it happened in the trials too and a little bit last year.

"Again, I'll have a look at the video and if it's happening a fair bit we need to protect these players."

"He's one of our great talents and I know teams are going to be really aware of him and make sure they get numbers in and whatever but if he's having his head attacked, we need to look at that."

Approached for a comment, Inglis said "I'm not talking" but Smith backed up Bellamy's claims, saying: "Greggy will just have to duck next time."

Veteran winger Jason Moodie had the honour of scoring the first try of the new season when he crossed from a scrum win in the corner, new goalkicker Benji Marshall converting for 6-0.

The Storm's smart work through the centre of the ruck paid off when Inglis lobbed the final pass for secondrower Jeremy Smith to score in the 16th minute.

It was back-to-back tries for the Storm with Ryan Hoffman forcing his way over off a kick from man of the match Cooper Cronk 10 minutes later.

But a back-to-back of another kind – two penalties against Storm replacement Michael Crocker for not touching the ball with his foot – gave Wests Tigers the chance to hit back in the 37th minute via Bronson Harrison.

"I don't look too closely at the play the ball but if he didn't touch it, then he didn't touch it," said Bellamy.

Smith said the Storm were relying too much on their defence and had a lot of work to do if they were challenge for the 2007 premiership.

Winger Matt Geyer had a Melbourne try denied in the 50th minute before Folau's mid-air heroics.

"I'm not pleased with a lot of things about the game but we were brave and the effort was there," said Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens.

MELBOURNE 18 (J Smith, R Hoffman, I Folau tries; C Smith 3 goals) WESTS TIGERS 16 (J Moodie, B Harrison tries; B Marshall goal) at Olympic Park. Referee: S Hampstead. Crowd: 13,535.
Teen spirit ... Melbourne teammates swamp rookie winger Israel Folau to celebrate his match-winning try at Olympic Park last night. Photo: Getty ImagesNEW STORM BOY OFF TO A FLYER

When Melbourne Storm recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan spotted Israel Folau playing three years ago at the Australian under-15 championships, no other NRL club was interested.

Now the 17-year-old Campbelltown-born winger is being hailed the NRL's next big thing after last night surviving a baptism of fire to secure a hard-fought victory for the Storm over Wests Tigers in the opening match of the 2007 premiership.

Folau, who became the youngest player to turn out for the Storm in the club's 10-year history when he made his debut last night, was heavily targeted by the Tigers kickers in the first half but, rather than be a liability, he proved the match-winner by outleaping Paul Whatuira to score the decisive try.

Standing 190cm tall and weighing 100kg, he is certain to score many more tries like the 59th-minute effort in which he latched onto Cameron Smith's cross-field kick and drove Whatuira and Tigers captain Brett Hodgson backwards over the line before planting the ball - particularly as he is yet to have stopped growing.

"He's much bigger than Greg Inglis was at the same age," O'Sullivan said. "He'll be up to 105kg, he's got nothing up top at the moment."

After learning the game in Sydney's west, Folau's family moved to Brisbane when he was 12 and O'Sullivan first saw him play three years later.

As with Inglis, no other clubs appeared to be chasing his signature and O'Sullivan swooped.

"Issy was different, he was playing at the under-15s championships and everyone else would have seen what I saw," O'Sullivan recalled after last night's 18-16 win. "He was just a skinny kid but you could see he had talent. I must have been blessed or something because no one else was after him."

Despite being chosen in the Storm's top 25-man squad this season, he had not been expected to make such an impact so soon and only features in the Melbourne chapter of the NRL media guide under the list of other players to watch.

After being named to make his debut on the right wing in place of the injured Steve Turner, the club issued a memo this week advising that his name had been incorrectly spelt and pronounced - even by them. But whether or not Turner makes his way back into the team or another player relinquishes his position it appears Folau will be there to stay - much as Inglis became a regular member of the team after his debut as an 18-year-old in 2005.

Inglis also started on the wing and last night made his first premiership appearance at five-eighth, turning in a solid performance. It is anticipated that Folau will also eventually move infield to play right centre.

"He hasn't got the explosiveness of Greg but he's got more power and he's much bigger than Greg was at the same age," O'Sullivan said. "I think he's better equipped than Greg was at the same age but Greg has obviously got other attributes."

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has placed a media ban on Folau and he was clearly nervous early in the game as the Tigers tested him with kicks but grew in confidence as the match wore on. Dominating possession in the opening exchanges, the Tigers struck first through veteran winger Jason Moodie, who scored in the fifth minute of his first premiership match since retiring two years ago to become a fireman. But the Storm hit back 11 minutes later when halfback Cooper Cronk beat Benji Marshall and Chris Heighington before linking with Inglis, who fended off Robbie Farah and threw a one-armed basketball pass to put Jeremy Smith over.

When Ryan Hoffman crossed 10 minutes later the home team hit the front and they were never headed, leading 12-10 at half-time before Folau scored to seal the win. "I thought Israel was great," Bellamy said. "They targeted him early on with kicks and they targeted him pretty much all game. They targeted Inglis too, they put a little bit extra in their tackles on him. But that's fine, you've got to expect that at this level. I thought Israel was great. He's going to be handy for us."

Like Bellamy, Tigers coach Tim Sheens was happy with his side's defence but believes ball control and their general kicking game are areas they need to improve.

Sheens said six of his side headed by Marshall and Hodgson hadn't had much pre-season training because they were recovering from long-term injuries and he would have to consider whether to carry so many players yet to reach full fitness in next week's game against Manly.

MELBOURNE 18 (J Smith, R Hoffman, I Folau tries; C Smith 3 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 16 (J Moodie, B Harrison, P Whatuira tries; B Marshall 2 goals) at Olympic Park. Referee: S Hampstead. Crowd: 13,535.

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Next big thing: Israel Falou trains at Princes Park yesterday. (photos ourfooty media & michael klien) ani oft media
Next big thing: Israel Falou trains at Princes Park yesterday. (photos ourfooty media & michael klien) ani oft media

Melbourne Storm's new sensation Israel Folau will make his National Rugby League debut against the Wests Tigers on Friday night but there was disappointment for Cameron Smith, who will have to wait before he can claim the team captaincy by himself.

In the lead-up to the season opener at Olympic Park, Storm coach Craig Bellamy yesterday announced that he had decided to continue rotating the captaincy, a system that had proved successful last season. Smith has been mentioned as a future captain and the rotational system was introduced last season partly to give him more time to develop his off-field leadership.

Smith yesterday said he believed he was ready to take sole responsibility but would accept the decision.

"I sat down with Craig and there was probably a couple of issues off-field that I needed to address …" Smith said. "There's just a couple of player management things I need to learn … I'm only 23, so once I get that down pat, I can stamp that one 'c' next to my name."

Bellamy said Smith's time would come. "He's only 23 years old. Basically, he's come through the leadership group a long time before a lot of other guys because of how good a player he is. There's nothing major and there's nothing sinister there, either, but he just needs to work on those couple of things."

Bellamy, who has slapped a media ban on Folau, said the teenager deserved his chance to replace the injured Steve Turner. "He's only 17, but he's a very mature guy, he's (190 centimetres) and about 97 kilograms, so he certainly doesn't lack anything in size and he's got a lot of skill …" he said. Bellamy expects Greg Inglis to play five-eighth differently than long-time Storm incumbent Scott Hill — and the player is happy to oblige.

"Scott Hill made that No. 6 his own at the Storm for so many years … but I'll grab it and make everything I can with it," Inglis said yesterday.

Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens believes the Storm may be vulnerable, with Inglis still finding his feet at five-eighth, and says avoiding Melbourne's wintry weather could work in his team's favour. "The weather in June is much tougher than it is now, and while they've got a few issues and they're working Inglis in, I feel they certainly have their vulnerability," he said.

Israel Falou has been impressive during the pre-seson trial gamesTURNER'S INJURY GIVES FALOU LIFT

CONTROVERSIAL Melbourne winger Steve Turner will miss the opening month of the season with an ankle injury potentially fast-tracking Storm sensation Israel Falou's rise to the NRL.

Turner, who was at the centre of a long-running contractual battle between Melbourne and the Gold Coast, ruptured the medial ligament in his left ankle in a trial match against the Broncos on Saturday night.

A dejected Turner yesterday said the injury was likely to keep him out of action for at least six weeks.

"I made a tackle during the first half and fell on my ankle awkwardly and unfortunately Sam Thaiday landed on me and it got caught under him," Turner said.

"It wasn't that painful when I tried to run on it, but now that it has settled down there is a bit of pain."

Storm had feared initially that Turner, who spent 12 months out of the game in 2005 because of a foot injury that required three rounds of surgery, could be sidelined for three months.

Scans yesterday showed the ankle injury, to the same leg, was not as serious but that there could be complications in its treatment.

"I've been through harder times than this so hopefully it won't be too bad," Turner said.

"I've just got to get on with it."

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said he was yet to contemplate who would replace Turner, but the claims of 17-year-old Falou are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

Used off the interchange bench against Brisbane, the powerfully built youngster proved a major handful for the Broncos defence.

Ryan Shortland and ex-Nudgee College student Will Chambers, who hails from the Northern Territory, are others in contention to replace Turner and he said it could prove difficult to win back his place in the side.

"There's a lot of young blokes like Israel and Shorty who are playing well," Turner said.

"You can't rest on being there last year. You have to earn your spot. I've got a lot of work to do."

Storm lock Dallas Johnson and back rower Matt Rua were yesterday cleared of concussion, while back rower Jeremy Smith will find out today if he has a case to answer after being placed on report for a high tackle on Broncos hooker Shaun Berrigan.

Bellamy said he was pleased with the progress Greg Inglis made in his first full game at five-eighth and is set to retain him there for Melbourne's opening-round clash with Wests Tigers.

"There were some really good signs and I thought the longer the game went on, the more comfortable he looked in the role we want him to play," Bellamy said.

Israel leaps over Matty Knig at training (Photo : melbourne storm)HE HASN'T SET THE WORLD ON FIRE YET, BUT HE'S HOLDING A LIT MATCH
Story & Photo Daily Telegraph/ourfooty media

28/02 HE is 17 years old, been tagged the next Lote Tugiri, and rivals Storm teammate Greg Inglis for freakish talent.

And even reticent coach Craig Bellamy admits his newest sensation "is hard to ignore".

Meet Israel Falou, the latest teenage phenomenon to emerge in Melbourne.

"There's a good saying about him," says Storm recruitment whiz Peter O'Sullivan.

"He hasn't set the world on fire yet, but he is holding a lit match."

As Tuqiri is shopped frantically around codes in coining weeks, rest assured Melbourne will not be among the bidders with Falou already on the books for a 10th of the Wallaby's $600,000 pricetag.

The young centre has set tongues wagging after an impressive trial performance for the Storm against Manly last weekend.

Falou, who already weighs 97kg and stands 190cm, outshone Jamie Lyon in his first match as a Sea Eagle with several surging runs and a big right-hand fend.

Despite being pencilled in as a development player for the 2007 season, the Storm are now contemplating an NRL debut for Falou several months short of his 18th birthday.

O'Sullivan, who signed Falou after spotting him in a Queensland schoolboy carnival two years ago, likens the teenager's power and pace to a young Tuqiri, and with the skill and touch of Paul McGregor thrown in.

"Just his size and athleticism were a sight to behold at 15, he scored a heap of tries down the right edge. He was a handful," O'Sullivan said yesterday.

"I saw a lot of 'Mary' in him, with the strength and movement of Lote as well."

Israel Fulou powers through the Emgland Academy line Dec '06 (Photo : ourfooty media)
Israel Fulou powers through the Emgland Academy line Dec '06 (Photo : ourfooty media)

Falou played a trial for the Storm last year against the Eels - breaking Matt Petersen's rib in a tackle - but emerged as a future star with a stand-out Australian Schoolboys tour of the UK last year.

Schoolboys coach Simon Huntly said there was "a split hair" between Falou and Roosters prospect Mitchell Pearce as the top player of the successful tour.

"Izzy was a boy among men," Huntly said.

"He scored 10 or 11 tries, and some of them were crucial. He saved half as many in defence as well. He is just very imposing, he has the ability to create a lot of stuff just out of nothing.

"When he fills out he is going to be something to behold I think."

Though still growing and yet to fill out across the shoulders, Falou is still a "big dude", according to Storm teammate Matt King.

"He is a big fella and he is still pretty slim in the gym, he is only 17. He has still got all that ahead of him," King said.

"Everyone has really high hopes for him. You watch him train and he is doing things that Billy [Slater] was doing when he first got down here, and Greggy [Inglis] was doing last year."

In a recent Melbourne training drill Falou left mouths agape when he didn't climb and catch on a shoulder height catching pad, but cleared it instead.

Like Inglis before him though, Melbourne have thrown a protective cordon around Falou - attempting to play down expectations and media glare.

A dedicated and clean-living churchgoer, Falou is not lacking in confidence however and welcomed the Tuqiri comparison.

"When I was growing up, Lote was one of my role models," Falou said.

"I'd like to think I've got a bit of Lote in me."

But while Bellamy trusted in the "good enough is old enough" approach for Inglis, the Storm coach admitted yesterday he was yet to make a call on Falou.

"He will be close to being in our team again this weekend," Bellamy said.

"He is a good player without a doubt, he will turn into a better player. He still has things to learn, things about positioning with his play and things like that. He is a tremendous young kid, but whether he is ready for first grade yet I am not sure."

BOOM prospect ... Storm back Israel Folau has been named on bench for trial against Broncos.STORM NAME STRONG LINEUP

28/02 MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy today named his strongest possible side for Saturday's NRL trial and grand final re-match against Brisbane at Princes Park.
Bellamy recalled all of his fit, experienced players after fielding a second-string outfit in last weekend's trial loss to Manly on the Sunshine Coast.

"It's our last game before the season proper begins and it's a dress rehearsal for what's ahead of us," said Bellamy.

"We've chosen a very strong side for the game, and there are a few spots still up for grabs so it should be a great game."

Test centre Greg Inglis was named at five-eighth while the Storm's latest teen sensation, Israel Falou, has been selected on the interchange bench.

Storm: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Anthony Quinn, Steve Turner, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Antonio Kaufusi, Cameron Smith, Brett White, Matt Rua, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Ben Cross, Jeff Lima, Garret Crossman, Jeremy Smith, James Aubusson, Ryan Shortland, Sam Tagataese, Israel Folau.

Falou's potential knows no bounds (Photo : Melborne Storm)FALOU SOARS MILES ABOVE OTHER YOUNG STARS

MELBOURNE STORM training includes a drill using a pad to test players' leaping ability under the high ball.

Most of the squad struggles to reach the pad, some members simply cannot. Then there's Israel Falou.

The first time the teenager took part in the practice drill, he not only reached it, he cleared it.

Last year Falou's Melbourne team-mate Greg Inglis made the transition from teenager to Test footballer.

Few Storm officials doubt Falou will replicate the achievements of his superstar team-mate. Like Inglis,

Falou was found by Melbourne recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan, who spotted the Tongan-born back at a schoolboys carnival in Toowoomba. Falou, then 15, was playing for Brisbane's Met East.

O'Sullivan immediately knew he was something special. "He was running down the right wing," O'Sullivan said."He was just a big strapping kid.

He wasn't really fast then but I thought he would grow into his body and legs. "They had trouble dragging him down as a 15-year-old."O'Sullivan moved swiftly, quickly signing Falou and introducing him to the Storm system.

Chris Mitchell & Israel Foula give ourfootyteam the thumbs up (Photo : ourfooty media)
Chris Mitchell & Israel Foula give ourfootyteam the thumbs up (Photo : ourfooty media)

Last vear the buzz was already out about the youngster, who played in the Queensland under- 17 and -19 sides, as a 16-year-old. He was also a stand-out on the Junior Kangaroos tour of Britain in late-2006.

While the Australian halves, including Sydney Roosters No. 7 Mitchell Pearce, were given the credit for Australia's win, O'Sullivan had no doubt who was the match-winner.

"Falou was clearly Australia's best player," O'Sullivan said."He tore them apart in this 20-minute period in the first Test.

He was the difference between the two teams."Israel completely dominated their centre, who is a very good player." Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has shown he is willing to give youngsters a chance, Inglis being the prime example.

As an 18-year-old, Inglis was given a taste of first grade. His form was so impressive he finished up playing 13 games in his first season before graduating to the Queensland and Australia sides last year.

But rather than comparing Falou to his team-mate, O'Sullivan believes he is more like former Brisbane winger, Wallabies star Lote Tuqiri, albeit with more instinct for the game. "It's just his athleticism and power," O'Sullivan said.

"I always thought he was Tuqiri-like in his power. In hindsight, he's a much more natural player than that. "He's more fluent and skilful.

He's definitely going to be a centre. He's got amazing ability to take knowledge, keep it and play with it. He's more robust than Greg Inglis.

I think he'll have a bigger impact as an 18-year than Greg did." "When he goes on the field he gets a bit of aggression in him. He's an aggressive kid and he's a forceful kid."

O'Sullivan said. "But it's not his nature off the field. I reckon he will play anywhere between six to 10 games.

That would be a minimum."Craig's attitude is if he's better than the other, he'll pick him straight away."
Next big thing: Israel Falou trains at Princes Park yesterday. (photos ourfooty media & michael klien) ani oft mediaISREAL FALOU & WILL CHAMBERS THREATEN STAR BACKS

21 /02 MELBOURNE Storm coach Craig Bellamy has warned senior players not to get too comfortable this season after the stunning progress of the club's rookie brigade.

Bellamy said last night the backs, in particular, would come under immense pressure to retain their positions, with exciting teenage pair Israel Falou and Will Chambers pressing for selection..

Falou, 17, and Chambers, 18, made an enormous impression on Bellamy during last weekend's sluggish trial win against the Gold Coast Titans.

Chambers scored two tries playing outside Greg Inglis, while Falou showed he had the physical game to compete in the NRL.

The pair will have another chance to press for Round 1 selection this weekend after Bellamy named a youthful squad for a trial against Manly on the Sunshine Coast.

Bellamy said a host of positions remained uncertain, with the next two trials, against Manly and Brisbane the following weekend, likely to decide selection tussles.

"I wouldn't say all the backs positions were cut and dry," he said.

"There are a couple that are pretty borderline.

"Chambers scored a couple of tries last week and Falou, the more he trains and the more he plays, the more he impresses you.

"Certainly a few of those older guys better not get comfortable, because there's plenty of ability in those younger blokes."

Veteran winger Matt Geyer is the player under most pressure to retain his starting spot.

Geyer's versatility means he could be worth more to Bellamy coming off the bench, with Chambers or Falou starting on the wing.

Geyer has been named on the bench for the Sea Eagles trial on Saturday night, with props Ian Donnelly and Garret Crossman.

Donnelly and Crossman had failed to put their hands up in the win against the Titans, Bellamy said..

The Storm's starting props in last year's grand final, Brett White and Antonio Kaufusi, will return from injury this weekend.

Kaufusi, now sporting a shaved head, has been battling calf and hamstring injuries, while White has recovered from an off-season shoulder reconstruction.

"The medical staff have cleared me and said it's fine," White said.

"Personally, my mental state is probably lacking because I haven't used it in a competitive situation, but after five minutes that'll disappear."

White said competition among the front-rowers meant it was vital to return this weekend.

"We're fighting for spots," he said. "It was important for me to get back."

Second-rower Ryan Hoffman has been named after battling a wrist injury.
Next big thing: Israel Falou trains at Princes Park yesterday. (photos ourfooty media & michael klien) ani oft media
Next big thing: Israel Falou trains at Princes Park yesterday. (photos ourfooty media & michael klien) ani oft media

03/02 AT JUST 17, Israel Falou has a long way to travel before he leads the Melbourne Storm to the promised land of premiership glory.

But Falou is already being touted as a future star in the game, built in the same mould as dual international Lote Tuqiri.

The shy teenager is set to be unleashed on the competition during this month's pre-season trials after gaining a taste of the action in a trial last year against Parramatta.

In that contest, Falou, who stands 190cm and weighs 97kg, broke the ribs of former Eels winger Matt Peterson in a bone-crunching tackle.

Falou's development since -- he was a standout on last year's Australian Schoolboys tour of Britain -- has pleased Storm recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan, who discovered Falou at an under-15 carnival in Queensland.

The man responsible for finding 20-year-old superstar Greg Inglis, O'Sullivan said Falou's style of play reminded him of Tuqiri's and former St George skipper Paul McGregor.

"He's probably a little bit (like) Paul McGregor at Saints," he said.

"He's that style of player -- big, aggressive, skilful. He's got a bit of Lote in him too, I guess, with his power."

O'Sullivan backed Falou to play up to 10 NRL games this season but said it was unfair to compare him with Inglis.

He said Falou would stand up to the rigours of first grade this season if given the chance, and would feature in Storm's trials against Gold Coast, Manly and Brisbane.

'He's awesome. (In last year's trial) he almost scored with his first touch, then he put a tackle on Peterson that broke his ribs. He was certainly up to (NRL) standard at 16," O'Sullivan said.

"I'm sure if injury-free he'll play a fair bit of first grade this year and will be in our backline for many years to come."

Queensland Rugby League managing director Ross Livermore yesterday laid State-of-Origin claims to Sydney-born Falou, who played his first senior game of rugby league north of the Tweed River.

Under Origin eligibility rules, players born in one state may appear for the other should they play their first senior game in that state.

"He's an outstanding talent," Livermore said.

Falou, who made his Queensland Cup debut with Storm feeder club Brisbane Norths last season, played more than 50 games in school, representative and semi-professional club competitions in 2006.

He also was the first player to represent Queensland under-17s and 19s in the same year since former Brisbane grand final hero Alan Cann in 1988.
Israel Fulou powers through the England Academy line Dec '06 (Photo : ourfooty media)
Israel Fulou powers through the England Academy line Dec '06 (Photo : ourfooty media)

The man responsible for finding 20-year-old superstar Greg Inglis, O'Sullivan said Falou's style of play reminded him of Tuqiri's and former St George skipper Paul McGregor.

"He's probably a little bit (like) Paul McGregor at Saints," he said.

"He's that style of player -- big, aggressive, skilful. He's got a bit of Lote in him too, I guess, with his power."

O'Sullivan backed Falou to play up to 10 NRL games this season but said it was unfair to compare him with Inglis.

He said Falou would stand up to the rigours of first grade this season if given the chance, and would feature in Storm's trials against Gold Coast, Manly and Brisbane.

'He's awesome. (In last year's trial) he almost scored with his first touch, then he put a tackle on Peterson that broke his ribs. He was certainly up to (NRL) standard at 16," O'Sullivan said.

"I'm sure if injury-free he'll play a fair bit of first grade this year and will be in our backline for many years to come."

Queensland Rugby League managing director Ross Livermore yesterday laid State-of-Origin claims to Sydney-born Falou, who played his first senior game of rugby league north of the Tweed River.

Under Origin eligibility rules, players born in one state may appear for the other should they play their first senior game in that state.

"He's an outstanding talent," Livermore said.

Falou, who made his Queensland Cup debut with Storm feeder club Brisbane Norths last season, played more than 50 games in school, representative and semi-professional club competitions in 2006.

He also was the first player to represent Queensland under-17s and 19s in the same year since former Brisbane grand final hero Alan Cann in 1988.

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NSW Sensation & Australian schoolboy Cameron WHITE  on tour in the UKCAMERON WHITE
Obe geia lines up Vs England in the 2nd Test 2006 (Photo : ourfooty media) OBE GEIA
Israel fulou on the burst for Australia Vs Wales '06 (photo : ourfooty media)ISREAL FALOU
Jeff HardyJeff HARDY
Head Coach -
Keerba Park State High SchoolGREG LENTON
Head Coach -
Joel Romelo
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Bulldogs win Harold Matthews Cup Grand FinalBulldogs win Harold 2007 Matthews Cup Grand Final
Watch them celebrate
Cheerleader of the Week - Rnd 5 _ ReneeCHEERLEADER of the WEEK
Arrive Alive Cup
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nvr txt whn ur drivin