Nick Daicos in action during Collingwood's clash against Melbourne in round 13, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

IT WAS a good weekend to have the bye if you're a star midfielder.

But if the success of the taggers across round 13 is anything to go by, the best engine room players in the competition can expect more tight-checking attention for the rest of the season.

Coaches collectively decided last week was a line in the sand moment – it was time to put taggers back on the map and to sacrifice a midfielder to stop an opposition gun.

It started on Friday night, as Brisbane sent Jarrod Berry to Western Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli. Throughout the 94 minutes the pair were matched up according to Champion Data, Bontempelli was held to 18 disposals, nine contested possessions, one clearance and six score involvements. 

It was well down on his average of 26 disposals, 14 contested possessions, six clearances and eight score involvements, although the Dogs skipper did move forward to break the tag and booted three goals while there, showing his class. 

Jarrod Berry and Marcus Bontempelli in action during the match between the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane at Marvel Stadium in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

St Kilda coach Ross Lyon's decision to hand Marcus Windhager the job to limit Gold Coast's Touk Miller was a key factor in the Saints' tight win, with Windhager keeping Miller to 14 disposals in the pair's 94 minutes matched up against each other. 

It was down on his 26-disposal average this season, with Miller also held to just two score involvements in that time (well down on his season average of six). 

Carlton has found its stopper in Alex Cincotta, who continued his run of tagging roles with a lockdown job on Essendon captain Zach Merrett. 

Merrett has become a Brownlow Medal favourite with an average of 29 disposals and 20 uncontested possessions in a brilliant campaign, but he was restricted to 15 disposals and six uncontested possessions in 93 minutes against Cincotta under Champion Data statistics. A bonus for Carlton was Cincotta's two goals as well in its efficient display against the Bombers. 

Zach Merrett looks dejected after Essendon's loss to Carlton at the MCG in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

It was the third consecutive week Cincotta has been deployed to hold an opposition playmaker – after keeping Port Adelaide's gamebreaker Zak Butters to 13 disposals in a 57-minute match-up as well as keeping Miller to 18 disposals across 90 minutes in round 11.

The round's final game saw one of the tightest tagging jobs of the lot, with Demon Alex Neal-Bullen going straight to Collingwood matchwinner Nick Daicos from the first bounce. Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin declared the match-up pre-game and saw his midfielder go with Daicos until the Magpie was substituted out of the game in the last term with a shin injury. 

To that point, Daicos and Neal-Bullen had been locked in a battle for 81 minutes, seeing Daicos gather 14 disposals, six uncontested possessions and a goal – down on his average of 32 disposals and 17 uncontested possessions.

Neal-Bullen's Demons were the only team of the four to deploy hard-line tags not to be winners in their respective games, with the cost-benefit, such as midfield structure and the defensive running of other midfielders, always needing to be taken into account by clubs who decide on the tight-checking roles. For instance, with the focus on Daicos, teammate Jack Crisp played one of the best midfield games of his season.


The return of the tag hasn't been pegged just for influential midfielders. Geelong's Tom Stewart has been on the receiving end throughout the season as opposition coaches attempt to nullify his impact, with Swan James Jordon also doing the role in Sunday's win at the SCG.

Bomber Matt Guelfi has also been sent to damaging defenders at stages this season as well, including against Hawks skipper James Sicily, West Coast's Jeremy McGovern and Giant Lachie Whitfield. 

The lag on the tag is officially over. It appears certain to be coming for more and more of the game's best.