Oft-maligned Knights centre Sione Mata'utia proved to be one of the most damaging edge defenders in the NRL in 2018, featuring near the top of the list for dominant tackles and effective edge tackles.
While Mata'utia's Knights had their defensive woes, leaking 607 points (more than any team except Manly), Mata'utia and regular right-edge defensive partner Aidan Guerra proved to be a poor avenue for opponents to run at more often than not.
According to NRL.com stats, analysing Newcastle's try causes (the missed tackle or misread that allowed an opposition to score a try) by area of the field, the centre-right channel marshalled by Mata'utia and Guerra was easily the tightest.
Just 11% of the team's try causes came in that channel compared to 26% on the left-centre channel, 21% and 22% on the left and right flanks respectively, and 21% through the middle.
Sione Mata'utia tackles - 2018 season
Mata'utia also racked up 26 'dominant' tackles through the season – the third most of any player and easily the most of any back, trailing only hard-hitting middle forwards Sam Burgess and Matt Prior (both 31).
His right-side partner Guerra was next on the list in fourth with 25, with plenty of those tackles coming in unison as the pair lifted and drove rivals back regularly from kick-offs and set restarts.
A dominant tackle can be awarded for a big hit but it is also awarded when the defender dominates the ball carrier in a tackle by driving him significantly backwards and/or dominates him in the ruck by rolling him over on his back and slowing down the play the ball significantly.
Mata'utia also finished fourth across the entire NRL for one-on-one edge tackles effected with 36; the two leaders are back-rowers renowned for defence in Tariq Sims (44) and Josh Jackson (39) while another maligned centre in Michael Jennings was third with 37.
Mata'utia's overall effective tackle percentage of 84.1 in 2018 was among the better centres
The eventual return of Tautau Moga from an ACL reconstruction plus the recruitment of centres Jesse Ramien and Hymel Hunt mean a likely return to the back row for Mata'utia in 2019 but the numbers show he is more than up to the task defensively.