The king of the clamp: who is the game’s best tagger?
Midfielders who amass disposals and clearances at will often steal all the limelight in the media rounds. However, the Mongrel likes to give credit where it’s due, and more often than not praise should be heaped on those who play the shutdown role.
From the tireless efforts of Eagle Mark Hutchings, to the grunt and determination of Pie Levi Greenwood, the competition is blessed with tagging talent.
But they’re can only be one king.
The Mongrel crowns the AFL’s best stopper in the current crop of players.
#5: Ben Jacobs (North Melbourne)
It’s a great shame North’s number one tagger hasn’t been able to take to the field since round 11 last year. Jacobs, who has been recently crippled by a mysterious head injury, is one of the games finest taggers when fully fit. His list of scalps include Tigers Star Dustin Martin, Dockers skipper Nathan Fyfe and Geelong legend Gary Ablett Jr.
What’s impressive about Jacobs game is his pure endurance to reach every contest and out-run his direct opponent. Once Jacobs wins the running battle, his influence is maximised by the way he goes and wins his own footy. It’s not surprising to see Jacobs shut down a player and yet also finish with 20+ touches himself, a rare trait in the tagging game.
North Melbourne would love to have Jacobs back out on the park as soon as possible, as he is a crucial cog in their midfield machine. For Jacobs’ sake, we hope his health issues are resolved and he pulls on the North jumper in due course, getting back to what he does best: shutting down influential opposition players.
#4: George Hewett (Sydney Swans)
The Swans have found a gem in youngster George Hewett, who has become a premium stopper in recent years. Hewett has taken to his relatively new role as chief Swans tagger like Shane Mumford to a community sausage sizzle stand.
Players he has shut down include Crow Rory Sloane, Eagle’s premiership hero Luke Shuey and Lions captain Dayne Zorko. Like Ben Jacobs, Hewett has a knack of winning his own footy while shutting down the target he has been assigned. Add his goal kicking capabilities to the list and you’ve got yourself a lovely tagger package.
It will be interesting to how high Hewett’s stocks rise if the Swans don’t have too much success in the September stage of the season. The South Australian local could be a prized acquisition for the Crows or Power once his services become available. For now, the Swans will be investing their hopes in Hewett to continue to deliver strong performances against the games top midfielders.
#3: Levi Greenwood
I’ve always been a big fan of the Pies tagging machine, and there is no doubt Greenwood stacks up as one of the best shut down players in the league. Greenwood might not be blessed with copious amounts of natural talent, but his work rate at the coalface is a credit to his dedication to deliver for his team week-in and week-out.
From quelling the influence of Nathan Fyfe to making Dustin Martin look second-rate, Levi Greenwood deserves more praise for his efforts. That said, Greenwood’s disposal by foot sometimes lets him down and takes away from his good tagging performances.
#2 Matt de Boer
Fresh from a stellar effort against Tiger Dustin Martin, former Docker and current Giant Matt de Boer is worthy of recognition for his fierce defensive efforts in shutting down opposition weapons.
The Giants midfielder has always been a gut runner and stoppage beast, and he frustrates the hell out of his opponents on a weekly basis. During his time with Fremantle, de Boer honed the art of tagging by learning from the best in the business; Ryan Crowley.
Its clear Crowley’s pestering techniques have rubbed off on de Boer, with Dustin Martin’s aggravated responses to being subdued a clear indication of his ability to get under his opponent’s skin.
#1 Mark Hutchings
A St Kilda reject once upon a time, Mark Hutchings has gone from strength to strength as a West Coast Eagle, and gets the thumbs up as the number one clamp in the game.
The Eagles on-baller has grown in confidence and his consistency in stopping opponents is simply terrific. Hutchings ticks all the boxes when it comes to the criteria of a supreme tagger. He runs hard, checks his opponent at every contest, hits the packs hard, sneaks forward for the occasional goal, and lays bone-crunching tackles.
It’s rare these days to see Hutchings direct opponent have a day out, as the Eagle is simply so consistent in clamping down on in one-on-one contests. Magpies Fans may love to hate Dom Sheed but they would be equally entitled to despise Mark Hutchings for his work on Steele Sidebottom in last year’s finals series. When the Pies needed their superstar to deliver, Hutchings once again sacrificed his own game to quell his influence and neutralise Sidebottom in the midfield battle.
If there was an All-Australian position designated to a tagger, Mark Hutchings would be absolutely deserving of sliding straight into the spot.
The best retired tagger?
Look no further than Ryan Crowley. Opposition teams shared a mutual hate for the former Docker who would frustrate the living hell out of the likes of Gary Ablett Jr, Chris Judd and Sam Mitchell. But if you’re hated as a tagger, it’s a compliment rather than an insult.
Crowley pestered his opponents to the point where they would lash out and give away silly free kicks. Love him or loathe him, it’s fair to say not many other players could match Ryan Crowley as a genuine tagging beast.
If only Crowley had ended his career as a one-club player and not an Essendon top-up player
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