The best defender in the NRL?

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Warriors Micheal Luck became the first player in NRL history to crack the 70-tackle barrier last weekend against the Storm, but the tackling machine is far from excited at the achievement – he is more concerned by the one tackle he missed.

Despite leading the NRL for the past two seasons with 957 tackles in 2008 and 959 tackles in 2007, Luck pays no real attention to his massive numbers, instead keeping an eye on his effective tackle percentage which takes into account both missed and ineffective tackles. It is in this statistic you truly find the NRL’s best defenders.

Luck, a Queensland Origin hopeful, is amongst the NRL’s best effective tacklers with 92.9 per cent of his 289 tackles being effective. But he is not the best in 2009 to date.

Based on a minimum 100 tackles made, that title is currently held by Dallas Johnson with 361 tackles with a 96 per cent effectiveness – part of the reason he holds Luck out of the Maroons squad.

Ask people to name the NRL’s top performers and superstars and you’ll often hear the same names bandied about: Inglis, Thurston, Bowen, Stewart, Prince, Gidley, Lockyer… the usual suspects. Invariably they are the excitement machines, the players who score the tries, make the breaks and as a result, make the headlines. It’s true these dynamos of the game are indeed superstars – but for every gifted attacking player there is a crack defender, and without these players, the wizards of offence would be far less effective.

“It’s hard to put a price on the value of players like Micheal Luck,” Warriors coach Ivan Cleary tells NRL.com. “He makes countless tackles every week and has done it since he arrived here. It’s his fourth season here now and whether it’s at training or in games he just turns up and puts in maximum effort.

“We were pretty amazed at his numbers the other day; I know he was a little shocked, but when you play hard like he does and you get 90 minutes in, that’s what can happen.

“He hardly misses any and he is the sort of guy that is absolutely filthy if he misses one and is mad even if he makes one that he doesn’t feel he dominated properly. He is an extremely disciplined guy and has built his game around it.”

Luck’s 74 tackles against the Warriors on the weekend is the most in any game in NRL history; however he made them from 90 minutes whereas the previous top number of 69 by Nathan Hindmarsh came from 80 minutes of football.

Despite the huge numbers the Warriors’ vice-captain modestly says there is nothing special to his tallies.

“It was all down the middle of the park and that’s where I defend,” Luck says.

“They sent plenty of traffic towards me so if they come near you… well, you have to get involved in the tackle.

“It’s not something I plan to go and do. I don’t particularly want to make that many tackles but if the opposition run at me I have to do my job. I am on the field for a fair amount of time so it works out that way.”

When asked about his effective tackle percentage, Luck does admit to being more concerned.

“It’d be no good making 50 tackles if you are going to miss five or six,” he admits. “I wasn’t happy with my defence the week before against the Roosters, I missed a few soft ones, so I worked extra hard on it during the week.

“It’s just something you have to keep working on. You work on your footwork, your contact and the wrestle.”

Cleary believes Luck is more than ready for Origin and not just because his defence is brilliant. The back-rower was called in as 18th man for the Maroons in 2007 and while he doesn’t expect to be picked, he’ll keep striving to be better should a call-up come.

“Lucky is the glue of our forward pack, he gets things going and he has a good offensive role going as well,” Cleary says.

“He doesn’t shirk responsibility in attack, he’d have more hit-ups if he was allowed to but we have him working in a bit more of a passing role as well, so usually when he has played well and we have played well, he has done plenty of passing.

“He becomes a key link role for our forwards and he’s not afraid to carry the ball too. He is a great role model for everybody.

“From what I gather he is knocking on the door for Origin. Mal (Queensland coach Mal Meninga) certainly appreciates his work but he’s in the Dallas Johnson mould so he’s fighting for that role. I know if given the chance he wouldn’t let anyone down.”

The 27-year-old Luck isn’t counting on an Origin call-up, he actually respects the loyalty of the Queensland selectors and as such expects to be overlooked.

“I’d love to play for Queensland but the good thing about the Queensland selectors is they are loyal to the guys who have been there and done it before and the side they have at the moment have been doing the job,” he says.

“I fully expect the same side to be picked again and they’ll be hard to beat once more. All I can do is play as well as I can and if a chance comes, it comes.”