MELBOURNE teenager Israel Folau has been getting rave reviews all season, but the latest praise has come from an unexpected source - the man charged with stopping him in Sunday night's grand final. Manly centre Steve Matai yesterday spoke in reverential tones of Folau's form, admitting he and his winger Michael Robertson had been working on ways to combat the 18-year-old. Matai, regarded among the game's most effective defensive centres, views Folau as one of Melbourne's genuine strike players in the grand final at Telstra Stadium. Given Folau's performances this season, his assessment is not without substance. Folau has been a revelation in his first year of first grade, appearing in 26 games and crossing for 21 tries. His ability to read the kicking game of halfback Cooper Cronk has been pinpointed as one of the focal points of Melbourne's attack. "He's obviously one of their strike players," Matai said. "They do a few kicks for him and we're going to have to try to defend that against him. Me and Robbo have been working on it a bit this week. Hopefully we can pull it off." Matai, at 94kg, is one of the more physical centres in the game, but he gives away size to Folau, who has topped the 100kg mark this year. Folau has also developed as a footballer. Even so, there are still deficiencies in his game. Parramatta centre Timana Tahu exposed some of them in last Sunday's preliminary final at Telstra Dome, troubling Folau with his footwork. Folau has improved to such an extent he is now regarded as a candidate for the Australia side to play New Zealand in Wellington next month. Former Test captain Gorden Tallis endorsed Folau's selection, claiming the teenager is playing well enough to demand inclusion. "Week-in, week-out he's been outstanding," Tallis said. "Normally they pick blokes who are fit and on fire."