Taupau Manly's ace in the deck

Breaking down structured defensive lines has never been so difficult, so you can understand why the Sea Eagles are so happy to have a guy like Martin Taupau at their disposal. 

‌The wrecking ball up front is a defender's nightmare; is he going to smash the ball forward with late footwork or is he going to pop an offload to a speedster in support to force effort on effort plays in defence? 

His numbers in 2017 have been quite staggering and have some in the game describing him as the best prop in the world. 

It's a fair statement when you consider he averages 181.3 metres and 4.2 offloads per game at a time when the wrestle has stifled the impact of big boppers through the middle. 

It's not just what he is doing, but what he isn't doing that has impressed many in 2017. Aside from a shoulder charge in Round 1 that saw him suspended for two games, Taupau has been squeaky clean this season, conceding just four penalties in 11 matches. 

His discipline is a far cry from what we've seen over the years during stints with the Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and Sea Eagles, and his footy-first focus has allowed him to become the most menacing ball-carrier in the competition. 

Teammate Brenton Lawrence has seen his fellow front-rower develop over the past two seasons and believes his permanent switch to the middle has brought the best out of Taupau.   

"He was probably a bit of a wildcard at the Tigers but he's very relaxed now and that's good because I think we've got the improved Martin Taupau now," Lawrence told NRL.com. 

"He's really hard to handle and that's what makes a good forward. He runs hard, makes a lot of carries and makes a lot of metres so he's definitely doing a job for us. He's definitely up there with some of the best props in the world."

Taupau has carried the ball for over 200 metres in his past three games, but it's his ability to offload that has done the most damage in 2017.

The 27-year-old leads the league with 46 offloads – including five in last week's win over the Sharks – allowing guys like Tom Trbojevic, Apisai Koroisau and Daly Cherry-Evans to wreak havoc with extra time and space around the ruck.  

"Marty brings that second-phase footy which gives our halves plenty of room to move," Lawrence said. 

"Sometimes he leaves your heart in your mouth when he throws a grenade out the back, but more often than not he pulls that play off. 

"From a defending point of view it's really hard because you don't know if you're going to have to make the tackle on Marty or stay up and keep an eye out for the offload. 

"Putting the defence in two minds is what halfbacks do, so if you have a front-rower who does it as well then it adds more to your artillery."