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Pressure kings: The players you don't want breathing down your neck

Hawthorn's Paul Puopolo tackles St Kilda's Josh Saunders during the 2014 AFL round 07 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne on May 03, 2014. (Photo: Greg Ford/AFL Media)
Hawthorn's Paul Puopolo fits the mould perfectly of an modern-day AFL pressure king
ADELAIDE: Rory Sloane
Patrick Dangerfield might be far and away Adelaide's best contested ball winner, but Rory Sloane is miles ahead in terms of pressure acts. The 23-year-old has registered 154 pressure acts so far this season, 49 more than Dangerfield (who's third) and easily ahead of second-placed Matthew Wright (116). Sloane's average of just under seven tackles a game has him ranked 13th in the AFL and the club's best by almost two a game. It's his workhorse attitude that stands up when the going gets tough – a statement backed by his class in wet and difficult conditions. His final quarter against the Western Bulldogs in round six produced a highlight reel of tackles, spoils, a goal and a goal assist and epitomised the reigning club champion's best. - Harry Thring
 
BRISBANE LIONS: Dayne Zorko
Not only the Lion King of pressure, but Zorko is the AFL's king. The diminutive midfielder/forward is an attack dog without the ball. He led the AFL in pressure acts in 2013 (567) and is again the League's barometer this season (208). Not only does he tackle prolifically (fourth last year for tackles inside the forward 50 and top-10 this year for tackles overall), but his repeat efforts to keep the ball locked in are an inspiration for teammates. Jack Redden is not far behind, ranked fourth in the AFL for pressure acts, and again in the top-10 for tackles. Not big in stature, Redden tackles with intent, and often against much stronger opponents.
 - Michael Whiting




Dayne Zorko was last year's League leader in pressure acts. Picture: AFL Media
 
CARLTON: Marc Murphy
Marc Murphy's leadership is reflected in his commitment to the defensive side of his game. The Carlton skipper leads his team in pressure acts this season (156) ahead of Dale Thomas (101) and Ed Curnow (100), and is fourth in the AFL for tackles (53). Curnow has built his game on defensive pressure and is ranked sixth in the competition for average tackles a game in 2014 (7.6). Sam Rowe's development as a defender has been impressive and he is fourth in the AFL in 2014 for one-percenters (64), with veteran key defender Michael Jamison equal 12th (48). David Ellard has also been a revelation in attack this season and is a clear leader at Carlton in forward-50 tackles (10). But no player at Visy Park applies more pressure all over the ground than Murphy. - Nick Bowen

COLLINGWOOD: Dayne Beams
Midfielder Dayne Beams leads the club in pressure acts (147) and tackles (45), and is third - behind Tyson Goldsack and Jarryd Blair - for tackles inside forward 50, with nine. Given that Beams also leads Collingwood for disposals (28.1 per game), it is some effort to lead those statistics, underlining the all-round nature of his game. Beams has played in 71 wins in his 98 games with Collingwood and it is difficult to overstate how important his return to full fitness has been to the Magpies' efforts so far this season. - Peter Ryan

ESSENDON: Dyson Heppell
It is no coincidence that Essendon's inability to match its frantic levels of pressure last year have matched up with Nick Kommer's absence for all of 2014. The small forward broke onto the scene last year as a mature-aged recruit, and although he lacks polish, found a spot in Essendon's line-up immediately with his effort and grit. Last year he was the Bombers' leading pressure acts player with 353 – an important measure alongside his goal and possession tallies. Knee tendonitis has kept Kommer out of action, with Dyson Heppell the leading pressure act player at the club this year. Heppell is a midfielder who goes both ways – working hard with the ball, and working hard to get it off the opposition. Paul Chapman and Ben Howlett have laid the most forward-50 tackles (10) for the Bombers this year. - Callum Twomey


Dyson Heppell is the Bombers' blue-collar king, and knows how to win the footy too. Picture: AFL Media

FREMANTLE: Chris Mayne
Forward Chris Mayne is carving out a career as a specialist forward 50 harasser who kicks goals on the side. The 25-year-old has said he would prefer to lay 10 tackles in a match than kick five goals, with his primary role to create scoring opportunities through defensive pressure. He was equal No.1 in the AFL last year for forward 50 tackles (38 and eight this year) and ranked top five for pressure acts (502 and 149 this year). Matt de Boer is another Docker who can play as a specialist defensive forward or take his pressure skills into the midfield. He leads the Dockers for pressure acts this year (168) as well as forward 50 tackles (10). He is also the Dockers' leading tackler overall (52), ranking No.5 in the AFL. – Nathan Schmook     

GEELONG: Cameron Guthrie
The emerging star, whose game has gone to a new level since he moved into the midfield, is in the top three at the Cats for both pressure acts and forward-50 tackles. Guthrie's tough and skilful style of play continues to power him up the player ratings table. Having started the year at No. 278, he now sits 21 places higher. The other pressure kings at Geelong include Travis Varcoe, who is equal-best at the club for pressure acts, and Jimmy Bartel, who has laid the most forward-50 tackles (13). - Adam McNicol

GOLD COAST: Jaeger O'Meara
He's got a lot of raps – and rightfully so – for the attacking side of his first 30 games, but O'Meara is a defensive master for the Suns. Once or twice last season, coach Guy McKenna used the Rising Star as a tagger, and the defensive traits rubbed off. O'Meara led the Suns in 2013 in pressure acts (447) and is doing so again this season (152). The 20-year-old has a man's body and uses it to full effect, making every one of his 6.9 tackles a game (11th in the League) count. Aaron Hall leads the club for tackles inside the forward 50, but the man who gives O'Meara the closest run for the title of 'pressure king' is captain Gary Ablett. Ablett is second in both pressure acts and tackles inside forward-50 – not bad for a bloke that spends only a small percentage of his game time there. - Michael Whiting



In his second season, Jaeger O'Meara has added a strong defensive aspect to his game. Picture: AFL Media

GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY: Adam Treloar
Heading into the 2014 campaign, Dermott Brereton singled out young GWS midfielder Treloar for special praise. He believes Treloar is a rare breed, a player that can use his pace to get into space, but also relishes the tough stuff in the middle. He is one of the Giants' main ball winners, but also gets the nod as their leading pressure player. He tops the club with 50 tackles, good enough for equal-seventh in the AFL, and his 157 pressure acts are behind only Tom Scully (164) for GWS. Stephen Coniglio has raised his game this year, third at the club for pressure acts (154) and third in tackles (5.4 per game). Heath Shaw has proven a more than handy addition to the backline, leading the way with 11 intercept score launches this season. But for overall pressure, Treloar leads the way. - James Dampney

HAWTHORN: Paul Puopolo
He's Hawthorn's shortest player, but 173cm Paul Puopolo stands taller than any other Hawk when it comes to pressure. The tenacious forward leads the reigning premiers for pressure acts (159), tackles (35) and tackles inside 50m (12). Jordan Lewis (150 pressure acts, 30 tackles), tagger Will Langford (126 pressure acts, 30 tackles) and Cyril Rioli (25 tackles) are the best of the rest, but can't dethrone the Hawks' 'pressure king'. A typical Puopolo moment came in the Easter Monday loss to Geelong. After his first attempted tackle was shrugged-off by Joel Selwood, the pocket dynamo bounced to his feet and dragged down the Cats' skipper. The holding the ball decision denied Selwood a forward 50m entry and lifted the Hawks late in the third quarter. – Travis King

MELBOURNE: Rohan Bail
Bail fills a very specific role for Melbourne. The Demons love his pressure and his ability to cause turnovers, highlighted by the fact he heads the list of pressure acts (159) at the club. Daniel Cross' determination is a given and his club-leading tackle count of 50 should come as little surprise. Bail is second on that table with 47 for the year, bumped up by the 10 he laid against Carlton in his club's first win of the year in round four. That day, the Demons out-tackled the Blues 84-65 and Bail was clearly among his side's best. – Ben Guthrie

Rohan Bail has filled a specific role for Paul Roos perfectly this year. Picture: AFL Media

NORTH MELBOURNE: Scott Thompson
The Roos have made defensive pressure a key focus this season and have spread the load evenly, helping to cover the loss of one of their best defensive players, skipper Andrew Swallow. Forwards Lindsay Thomas (134) and Brent Harvey (126) lead the way in pressure acts from midfielder Ryan Bastinac (120), while Ben Cunnington's defensive work at stoppages sees him ranked equal 19th in the competition for tackles (45). But it's hard to go past last year's All Australian full-back, Scott Thompson, as the Roos' best pressure player. Thompson is rarely beaten in one-on-one contests and frequently cuts off opposition attacks with his elite intercept marking. Fellow key defenders Nathan Grima and Lachlan Hansen have also been important for the Roos this season and lead the club in one-percenters with 47 and 42 respectively. In attack, Leigh Adams has laid the most forward 50 tackles of any Roo (nine) and is equal second for total tackles (30) with ruckman Todd Goldstein. - Nick Bowen

PORT ADELAIDE: Ollie Wines
As a second year player, Ollie Wines' role in the Power's midfield is remarkable. The 19-year-old is clearly the club's most prolific winner of the contested ball, with his 104 contested possessions ranking him seventh in the League. He's also leading the Power for pressure acts so far this year (173) ahead of Brad Ebert (161) and Travis Boak (147). He's only just behind Ebert as one of the Power's best tacklers (5.5 a game) and he's leading the club for clearances with just over five a game. But not only is Wines imposing himself inside the contest, his status as Port's 'pressure king' is enhanced by his ability to hit the scoreboard when his side needs it most. He booted a crucial goal late in last year's elimination final and another in round one against Carlton to keep the Power in touch. - Harry Thring

RICHMOND: Reece Conca
Reece Conca has spent the past two season developing his inside game and leads the Tigers for pressure acts from former Port Adelaide midfielder Matt Thomas. Conca has also stepped up in the absence of Jake King, who topped the Tigers for tackles inside-50 last year, and the young midfielder has delivered 11 to be second to just Shane Edwards. In total tackles, Conca has twice made double figures this year – in round three against the Western Bulldogs and round six against Hawthorn – which sees him easily lead the club with 50 after seven games. It's been a slow build this year for Conca after hamstring tendon surgery at the end of last season, but his contested game and ability to exert pressure has been impressive. - Jennifer Phelan

ST KILDA: Clint Jones 
It's hard to go past the often-maligned Clint Jones, who is having a good season after his career seemed to be winding down last year. In 2014, he leads the Saints for pressure acts with 146 and tops the club for tackles inside 50 with seven. Given the Saints were without Jack Steven – who led the club for pressure acts last year – for the first three rounds, and have David Armitage currently sidelined with a knee injury after he was the most prolific in inside 50 tackles in 2013, it's been an important effort from the 30-year-old. Lenny Hayes unsurprisingly leads the Saints for overall tackles but Jones is just four behind him – and with 42, is on track to be a more significant presence in that area after finishing fifth last year with 70 from 19 games. - Jennifer Phelan





Clint Jones has enjoyed a career resurrection, and leads his club for pressure acts. Picture: AFL Media

SYDNEY SWANS: Ben McGlynn
The Swans pride themselves on pressure acts, with their best example being the 2012 Grand Final. Throughout that season they identified 175 one-percenters as the minimum required, but kept breaking their own record, producing 333 as they secured the premiership. They have a number of players that embody that desperation, led by Ben McGlynn and Josh Kennedy. McGlynn tops the Swans this year in pressure acts with 195, ahead of Luke Parker (180) and Jarrad McVeigh (149). McGlynn is also their leading tackler, his 55 for the year ranking him third in the AFL. Used predominantly as a small forward previously, he has been shifted into the midfield this season with devastating results. Kennedy is also a pressure machine and thrives on contested football. He paces the Swans with 12 forward-50 tackles, ahead of McGlynn, Lance Franklin and Kieren Jack (all nine). - Michael Whiting

WEST COAST: Matt Priddis
Reigning best-and-fairest Matt Priddis edges out another manic midfielder, Scott Selwood, as the Eagles' premier pressure player. It's no coincidence West Coast's past two club champions lead the highly-valued pressure acts and tackles statistics. Selwood has recorded 180 pressure acts in eight games, 13 more than Priddis. However, the left-footed Priddis has laid six more tackles (49) and, somewhat surprisingly, has wrapped-up opponents inside the forward 50m arc 12 times this season. Priddis and Selwood share similar career trajectories - both thrived as taggers before developing more attacking styles - and it's tough to split them here, except to say that Priddis has worn the Eagles' 'pressure king' crown slightly longer and is yet to fully relinquish it. – Travis King



Matt Priddis is the Eagles' tackle king this season. Picture: AFL Media
 
WESTERN BULLDOGS: Tom Liberatore
There could be a case made for small forward Luke Dahlhaus to be crowned the Bulldogs' king of pressure, based on the stats from last season. He was ranked No.1 at the club for pressure acts with 467 for the season but in 2014 another pup has risen to the top - Tom Liberatore. After eight rounds, the father-son recruit is the No.1 tackler in the competition; averaging 8.4 per game and last Saturday night against Melbourne laid an incredible 14 tackles. A terrier in the contest, Liberatore is the Bulldogs' best player for pressure acts with 191 this season, 71 more than second-ranked Jack Macrae. – Nat Edwards

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs