Such is the hype surrounding new Melbourne Storm recruit Elijah Niko that he has already drawn comparisons to former NRL star Israel Folau.Every season the Storm have unearthed a future star, and little-known Niko is tipped to follow in the steps of Folau, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater – and even rugby convert Will Chambers – and make an immediate impact on the NRL. Skipper Cameron Smith said Niko had a serious chance to brush aside seasoned campaigners for a start in Melbourne’s opener against Manly. All eyes will be on the club and their new talent after they were forced to release several big names, including Inglis, in the aftermath of last year’s cap-rorting saga. Club officials preferred not to comment on Niko, who scored 21 tries in 36 games for the Warriors in Toyota Cup, including one in last year’s grand final triumph, and said they wanted to “keep him under wraps”. But Smith gave him a glowing endorsement and went as far to liken him to Folau. “I think Elijah is a guy you’ll see a lot of in the near future,” Smith said. “He reminds me a lot of Israel Folau when he first arrived at the club. He came down as a big, young, raw winger, but this guy has got plenty of skill and will be playing plenty of first grade as his career goes on. “He’s a big athletic bloke, strong, runs the ball hard, is quite good in the air, and has got a really good set of hands when he’s got the ball. “He’s also got great ability to offload to a winger in tight situations. “I’m not trying to put pressure on the bloke and say he can be like Israel, he just reminds me a lot of him from what I’ve seen the past month.”Smith said Niko, who will be easily identified to fans because of his afro, could be wasted on the wing and more productive in the centres, but would leave it to coach Craig Bellamy to decide. Matt Duffie and Justin O’Neill, who were both unveiled last year, as well as Anthony Quinn and new recruit Beau Champion, will challenge for the wing and centre jumpers.

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