With 2016 premiers Cronulla building up a bit of steam as we get to the business end of the 2018 Telstra Premiership season, one stat has emerged that should have the rest of the competition on notice.
Shane Flanagan's men are miles ahead of the other 15 teams when it comes to dominant tackles, which are effected when the defender(s) immediately dominate the carrier and/or drive a ball-runner backwards after impact.
In total, Cronulla players have racked up 211 dominant tackles, according to NRL.com Stats. More than one player can be attributed a dominant tackle in a single ruck if there are multiple defenders involved and the Sharks are the masters of getting numbers in the ruck.
The next most by a team is Newcastle (161), closely followed by the Broncos (158), Rabbitohs (155) and Panthers (151). A little further back are the Eels (126), Warriors and Dragons (both 123), Cowboys (114) and Bulldogs (112). Manly (92), Wests Tigers (86), the Roosters (83), Storm (81) and Raiders (76) trail even further back with the Titans (47) a distant last.
Six Sharks players are in the top 22 individuals for dominant tackles with Matt Prior (27) leading all comers, Kurt Capewell (20) a slightly surprising name in equal fifth, and edge defenders Jesse Ramien, Chad Townsend (both 19) and Matt Moylan (14) punching above their weight. Andrew Fifita (14) sits alongside Moylan in equal 17th.
More than anything the statistic highlights a difference in methods between different teams because the numbers do not correlate to ladder position. So it is not necessarily a case of 'more is better' – the struggling Knights and Eels are higher up the list while top-four teams in the Storm and Roosters are in the bottom four of this category.
What it does suggest is that teams like the Storm and Roosters, who concede the fewest points despite making relatively few dominant tackles, employ a defensive method based more around sliding defence and catching in the tackle then using the wrestle. The Sharks are more focused on big impacts and driving in the tackle through weight of bodies. Similar can be said of the Knights, but as the league's worst defensive side in terms of points conceded they clearly need some practice making it work as well as Cronulla.
The most dominant tackles by a player from either of the Storm or Roosters this year is eight, by Victor Radley and Cameron Munster, putting them in equal 72nd on the list. Recent ex-players from those clubs like Aidan Guerra (24, second), Slade Griffin (10, equal 47th) and Connor Watson (nine, equal 58th) are higher up the list than any of their former clubmates, further indicating it is a strategy by those clubs in the way they approach their defence rather than an inability to effect dominant tackles.