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3 days ago
Giant teenage sensation Israel Folau shied away from comparisons with Queensland rugby league great Mal Meninga when the starry-eyed youngster stepped into his first Origin camp this week.
While the massive 19-year-old says he won't be shying away from anything NSW can test him with in his Origin debut in Sydney next Wednesday night, he was openly embarrassed by suggestions he was the game's modern-day Meninga.
Origin's greatest point-scorer and a warrior of 32 clashes with the Blues and a record 45 Test appearances, Meninga was recently named one of the centres in league's Team of the Century and also voted its toughest player.
"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 the modest Storm youngster who launched his career with an amazing 21 tries last season.
"I don't want to take too much notice of compliments about me."
He may not.
But others, including Meninga who says Folau is more damaging than he was at the same age, believe he is destined for greatness.
Folau already has a special place in rugby league's history books as the youngest player to wear the green and gold for Australia, making his Test debut against New Zealand in October last year as a raw 18-year-old.
There's no denying Folau has Meninga's traits, his size, speed, strength and ability to inject fear into rivals faced with the daunting task of containing him.
Storm teammate and Queensland forward Michael Crocker says one of the joys of playing for Melbourne is giving the 103kg Folau the football and watching him wind up.
But it's not just the youngster's ability to plough through defenders.
He has an amazing vertical leap which makes him just as dangerous in the air as on the ground.
Despite not having played an Origin game, a leading bookmaker has posted him as the early $5 favourite to be the first try scorer over a field of the best players in the world.
The sky is the limit for Folau who is heading home to Brisbane next season to be with his family and his Mormon church and to play with his idol, Darren Lockyer.
While he saw some clips of Meninga smashing players when he was growing up, Lockyer was always his favourite player.
"I've got to pinch myself a few times to know this has come so quick," he says with a boyish smile.
It's possible the devout Mormon could be called away by his church at any time to carry out missionary work.
Folau believes he was given a gift by God to play football.
"I'll play rugby league but some mission work could pop up," he said.
"I feel I've been given a gift to play rugby league to help people around me with my talent.
"Hopefully what I'm doing on the field really helps most of the young kids looking up to me."