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Tim Mannah was telling anyone and everyone who'd listen last summer that this unknown Fijian they were hiding on the wing would be catapulted into the NRL stratosphere at the Auckland Nines. 

The aforementioned Fijian would quickly become a cult hero across the game - the rampaging Semi Radradra.

"I picked him pretty early, and I'm pretty proud of that," the Eels skipper told at the season launch in New Zealand on Thursday night. 

"I knew he was going to be good at the Nines because he's got a rugby sevens background. We only did a couple of sessions for that and just watching him in that comp, he was right in his element. 

"He got confidence from that and then he goes on to get Dally M Winger of the Year. So it was a great launching point for him."

You can watch every Auckland Nines game LIVE with the NRL Digital Pass

And now the former NSW prop has boldly predicted another winner, a kid with a name you might find familiar. 

John Folau spent last season between the under-20s and NSW Cup competition, quietly refining his skills and getting his frame up to speed with the man's game. And now he not only enters the 2015 season with a man's pre-season under his belt, but weighs in at an astonishing 112 kilograms.  

The younger sibling of dual international Israel is ready, Mannah says. Just don't bring up the whole "Folau" thing too often. 

"He's his own man, and I don't think he likes the Israel talk too much," he said. 

"He's probably like the old Izzy, around 2007 when he first come out. He reminds me a lot of Izzy back then. Obviously Izzy's got the freakish skills, but they've got different talents, different strengths. 

"John's a lot bigger though, a lot thicker. He's got a lot more punch with his defence and he's a lot harder to handle. He's been monstering a lot of guys at training over the summer. He's got a lot of potential, Johnny. It's a great opportunity for him this weekend."

Eels coach Brad Arthur has chosen to keep Mannah in cotton wool in preparation for the season proper, and instead bestowed reborn halfback Chris Sandow as captain of a Parramatta squad in what shapes as a defining calendar year for the once troubled playmaker. 

With talismanic fullback Jarryd Hayne off chasing his gridiron dreams, Mannah said the onus is now on players like Sandow to spearhead a team that has long struggled without their franchise face. 

"Whether you admit it or not, I think subconsciously a lot of people relied on Jarryd to deliver on the field. When he was injured, our record wasn't the best without him," he said. 

"Now that he's out of the squad, it's a different mentality that the boys go into the game with. They're not thinking about who we're missing, they're thinking about what we have. That mentality is going to be a good thing for us. 

"Chrissy's been training really well this summer, but I think Will Hopoate and Reece Robinson – you talk about fullbacks – will fill that void. We've been pretty blessed in that department with our depth and being able to replace someone like Jarryd, it'll be a quick transition for us."

You can watch every Auckland Nines game LIVE with the NRL Digital Pass

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