Israel Folau's giant shadow hangs over the New Zealand Warriors as they prepare for the visit of the Melbourne Storm at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Arguably the best attacking player in either rugby code alongside Storm team-mate Greg Inglis, the 1.95m Folau has scored 30 tries in 41 NRL games since debuting last season, many coming from his gravity-defying leaping ability.
Inexperienced Warriors wingers Malo Solomona and Aidan Kirk will face a test of fire as halfback Cooper Cronk is guaranteed to send some serious bomb-disposal work their way.
But a confident Solomona, who bagged a treble of tries in the Warriors' helter-skelter 40-22 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs last Saturday, told Fairfax Media he's ready for the challenge in what could be a defining match in their late charge for a top-eight playoffs place.
"It's going to be a tough game. I want to try and take my game to another level, everything else will take care of itself.
"We've been doing a lot of practice on high balls. You've just got to try and come off the better man."
Folau, 19, produced another stunning try, his ninth of the season, when he soared to score the first in a 26-0 thumping of the Dragons last Monday.
With brilliant fullback Billy Slater suspended, Folau, who claims he is afraid of heights, will be a huge part of the defending premiers' attacking plans against the Warriors, who are coming off the back of three straight wins.
Solomona, 21, who is 13cm shorter than Folau, said he is getting plenty of advice from Australian international centre Brent Tate and injured Kiwis winger Manu Vatuvei.
"They've been keeping an eye on me. Last weekend it was a good game and I was just grateful to be in the side.
"The boys told me to keep it up and get better next week."
He would love to put one over on Folau and company and grab another try in his fourth first-grade game.
"I've got to concentrate on what I do and if the tries come, yeah, it's a bonus."
The former Richmond Rovers club junior said he never made a representative side for Auckland and it wasn't until he was called up to the Samoan world cup squad that his NRL dream ignited.
"Playing for my country has been my highlight so far and I want to play for them at the world cup this year."
Solomona is a first cousin of current Bradford Bulls and former Kiwis forward David Solomona, while former Kiwis and foundation Warriors prop Se'e Solomona is his uncle.
After spending two years in the North Queensland Cowboys development side while staying with Se'e Solomona in Townsville, he played for the Auckland Lions last season in the New South Wales premier league, scoring 15 tries in 21 games.
"Making first-grade this year was one of my goals. They told me they were expecting me to play but with all the competition it was pretty hard to crack. With the injuries I got my opportunity. My next goal is to keep my position."
Head coach Ivan Cleary has been impressed with Solomona's attitude and composure.
"Three tries [against the Bulldogs] was a good reward for him. He's still got a lot to learn and a long way to go but he's made a pretty good fist of it so far."
Asked about Folau's aerial threat Cleary said: "It's very hard to outjump him that's for sure. He's already shown that. The best way to combat that is in all parts of your game, trying to reduce the amount of time they're down there.
"But if they're trying to score points from going to the air, you've just got to get people around the ball."
Cleary said Slater's absence was a bonus, but the Storm were such a strong all-round side it would not weaken them too much.
"Slater is one of many great players. It's not going to hurt us but it's a great side all round and all I know is that we have to play really well.
"It's like a lot of other teams, if you can stop their yardage game and put some pressure on key guys it gives you a much better chance of stopping other parts of their game.
"I think it's a good time to play them. I certainly feel like we're going a lot better than what we were a month ago and I still feel like our best football is in front of us.
"It's a good day to be judged."
Warriors: Lance Hohaia, Malo Solomona, Brent Tate, Sonny Fai, Aidan Kirk, Nathan Fien, Grant Rovelli, Ruben Wiki, Ian Henderson, Steve Price, Simon Mannering, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Jerome Ropati, Evarn Tuimavave, Sam Rapira, Ben Matulino.
Storm: Fullback to be named, Steve Turner, Matt Geyer, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Jeff Lima, Cameron Smith, Brett White, Michael Crocker, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Jeremy Smith, Adam Blair, Sika Manu, Antonio Kaufusi
TAB odds: Warriors $3.10. Storm: $1.33.
Warriors' games to come: v Storm (h), v Rabbitohs (a), v Broncos (h), v Sharks (h), v Dragons (a), v Panthers (h), v Eels (a).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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