Melbourne unearth the next 'Izzy'
Storm rookie sensation Suliasi Vunivalu is being compared to former NRL star Israel Folau after crossing for four first-half tries against the Sea Eagles on Saturday night.
Vunivalu equalled Folau's club record of 21 tries in a rookie season for the Storm with a first-half blitz in Melbourne's 38-18 win over Manly at Brookvale Oval.
Having gone four matches without scoring, the flying Fijian roared back into form to go four tries clear of Cronulla's Valentine Holmes on the top try-scorers list with two rounds remaining.
Incredibly, Vunivalu has only played 16 matches in his first season in the NRL, with his exploits drawing unsurprising comparisons to Folau's debut season with the Storm.
Folau burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old prodigy at the start of the 2007 season, scoring 21 tries from 27 matches.
Just like Vunivalu, he made his debut against the Wests Tigers, scoring what turned out to be the match-winner. It is just one of many similarities between the pair.
Both men crossed for three doubles in their first four games; both endured four-game scoring droughts; both score hat-tricks in Round 24 victories that saw the Storm score exactly 38 points.
"I respect 'Izzy' Folau. He's a good player so it would be good to go past that," Vunivalu said when asked about possibly beating the record.
"I wasn't thinking about that going through the game. If it equals Izzy Folau's record, that's not my focus. My focus is to be part of the team and play hard for the boys and come away with a win."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said there were obvious similarities between the two players in their rookie seasons.
"He's probably a little bit quicker than Israel at this age, but Izzy was a little bit bigger than him,' Bellamy said.
"They're both really good in the air; obviously at the time what Izzy was doing was a bit foreign to the game. Obviously now there are a lot of wingers who can do that stuff now, and Suli is one of them.
"They're both really good kids off the field and that's helped them."
Having been plucked from virtual obscurity to make his debut in Round 7, Vunivalu said he had to pinch himself given what he's achieved already in 2016.
"I didn't see myself playing this many games at the back of the season," he said.
"I thought I would come in for a couple of [games] to fill in for the injured boys and go back out and play Queensland Cup [when they returned]."
While obviously happy with his four-try haul, Vunivalu is well aware he could have scored another one had it not been for the intervention of Josh Starling.
The Sea Eagles prop seemingly came from nowhere to deny the 20-year-old late in the first half when it looked like he only had open pastures in front of him.
"He had a head start from the back and I couldn't go a couple of metres near the sideline because he'd push me out," Vunivalu said. "I took the easy option and came back on the inside."