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Tourists have new Aussie missile Folau on the radar


Australia's Israel Folau Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Australia's Israel Folau Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Australia's Israel Folau Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Israel Folau's stunning rise from rugby union debutant to Australian international in four months has thrust him into a baptism of fire against the Lions in the first test in Brisbane tomorrow.

The 24-year-old will run out on the wing, a position largely foreign to him in the 15-man code, to face off against dangerous Welsh flyer George North and a starting side boasting more than 700 caps.

The dual code international can expect special attention from the Lions, who will be eager to ensure his test debut is memorable for all of the wrong reasons.

"We know what a quality player he is," Lions coach Warren Gatland said yesterday. "I think the battle between him and George North is going to be worth the price of the ticket alone."

The man least likely to be fazed is Folau (right), a powerfully built and explosive runner. Born to Tongan parents and raised in a fringe suburb of Sydney, Folau's journey began with a match-winning try on his debut as a 17-year-old in Australia's top-flight National Rugby League (NRL), where he became an instant pin-up boy after scoring a record amount of tries in his first year.

At 18, he became the youngest player to pull on a Kangaroos jersey when he was picked to play New Zealand for Australia's national rugby league team.

But with the world at his feet, the player nicknamed "Izzy" sensationally walked out of his NRL career in 2011 to try his hand at Australian Rules.

Folau was slammed for drawing a huge salary in the AFL, where his high profile was seen as a powerful weapon to chip away at the dominance of rugby league in Sydney's working class west.

The move was calamitous, however, with Folau failing to master the code's intricacies and leaving the competition two years into his four-year contract.