John Folau ready to escape Izzy's shadow
John Folau insists he doesn't care one iota about following in famous brother's shadow – mostly because Israel was the one who spent their entire childhood jumping out of John's way.
"Izzy's more skilful, but I like the body contact," John explains. "So growing up playing backyard footy with the brothers, I was always barging and he was the one trying to get out of the way."
The boom Eels rookie sat down with NRL.com this week to talk all things football and family – but mainly family, and primarily the code-hopping national superstar whose shadow John mightn't ever escape.
But he couldn't be more okay with that.
"Every brother looks up his older sibling, and it's no different with me. Looking up to Izzy, I'd seen what he done and I wanted to do something similar," he says.
Wait, could that mean a hop and a leap to leave his mark on the AFL? Or maybe even mauling his way to into rugby union?
"Not exactly the same as that. I want to carve my own path," John says.
"But he's still been a big influence in that."
One of six siblings, John was just 16 and hadn't even taken sport seriously when Israel shook the entire league and announced a lucrative move to the AFL's Western Sydney Giants.
"I wasn't really a sporty type back at school. I was fat and chubby, man," John says. "I just wasn't really into it. I was into rugby league but that was about it. I wasn't taking footy seriously growing up."
But that was until Israel decided to swap Brisbane for western Sydney and exchange the Steeden for the Sherrin in 2011. The jaw-dropping announcement turned into an all-family affair.
Dad Eni and mum Amelia took the entire Folau clan south of the border, including John, who had scored an SG Ball trial with the Parramatta Eels.
"I was excited and shocked at the same time, when he announced his move. I was probably more excited for him. I knew he wanted to challenge himself. It's what he wanted to do," John recalls.
"For me, I was just moving with the family. And then I got the chance to trial, and that's what motivated me to take footy properly."
Four years on and – despite the rah-rah emanating out of Wallabies and Waratahs HQ, and the initial letdown of Israel not heading to the Eels three years ago – John's elevation to first grade over the past fortnight has again set tongues wagging about a Folau in Parramatta.
John enjoyed a quiet debut against the Warriors in Round 3, before roaring to life the following week when he bagged a brace of tries in an epic upset of defending premiers South Sydney with Israel in the stands. He also busted eight tackles and broke through the line twice.
"It was just like Harold Matts and SG Ball," teammate Tepai Moeroa says. "Johnny's always been a strong runner and defender. He's always been that player. When you're in trouble, just give Johnny the ball. Hopefully he does something magical gets you out of it. He's something special."
So special in fact, that the shot put Olympic hopeful believes his long-time teammate would be capable of following his brother's lead and walk into any code he wants – except maybe AFL.
"He's only 20, so give him a couple of years," Moeroa continues. "He can do whatever he wants – union, league... I don't know about AFL but, he'd have to trim out a lot."
Right now, he'll have to live with Moeroa comparing him to another Queensland star.
"He's like a [Justin] Hodges, a stronger Hodges. Just not as annoying but," Moeroa laughs. "But he's got the similar impact to a game – he's got the fend, the step, and he's got power on him.
"He can always get better too. It's only his third game, he's still fresh on the scene. He's got a lot to work on. He's future star."
Be still, Eels fans. Last week, John signed a two-year contract extension that'll tie him down in Parramatta until the end of 2017.
And like most Eels recruits, he put the reason down to one man: Brad Arthur.
"Being here ever since I moved from Brisbane, it's the best spot for me to develop as a player on and off the field. I love it here," he says.
"What I really want to get out of playing footy is to be the best football player I can, and also the best person I can be off the field. And Brad's taught me a lot about that.
"I wasn't really looking elsewhere. As I said, I love it here at Parra. It's home for me over the past few years. Right now I wouldn't want to play anywhere else."