Two of the game’s hardest-working forwards will battle it out this Sunday at ANZ Stadium as Wests Tigers’ Elijah Taylor and St. George-Illawarra’s Jack De Belin go head-to-head in a fascinating Phil Gilbert Motor Group Key Matchup.
Both experienced players in their respective teams, Taylor and De Belin were on the cusp of representative duties in 2016 and have carried that form into this season.
Off the back of his first full pre-season with Wests Tigers, Taylor’s importance to his side’s attack and defence is evident each week; his role at first receiver in attack allows Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks to play far more direct, while the former New Zealand international’s 40-plus tackles each week in defence never goes unnoticed.
His significance is well-understood by fans and commentators alike after making the move from Penrith less than 12 months ago, but it’s his direct opponent this week in De Belin who is catching many football lovers by surprise with his remarkable numbers.
One of the Dragons’ more experienced forwards, De Belin has taken his game to a new level in 2017 alongside the likes of Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell — averaging over 15 runs, 125 metres and 30 tackles per game, along with 15 tackle breaks and 10 offloads.
His emergence as one of the game’s top lock forwards has been gradual yet surprising over the last 18 months, and Wests Tigers will certainly need to be on guard this Sunday for the 26-year-old’s consistent efforts and attacking potency close to the line.
Other key positional match-ups to keep an eye on this Sunday include James Tedesco v Josh Dugan, Mitchell Moses v Gareth Widdop and Chris Lawrence v Tyson Frizell.
All the numbers
Having both crossed the try-line already this season, it’s De Belin who holds the edge over Taylor in a number of key categories. However, it’s worth noting the difference in style between the players (Taylor more of a distributed and De Belin a workhorse) while the Dragons man has also played a game more than ET. Still, the defensive efforts of both stand out — Taylor averaging 40 tackles per game and De Belin 35.5, while combined they have only accounted for 16 missed tackles and one penalty conceded.
Taylor and De Belin have met on five occasions throughout their career, with the Dragons forward holding a slight 3-2 advantage. Incredibly, of those five games, Taylor has played at three different clubs against De Belin, coming up against him while playing for the New Zealand Warriors, Penrith Panthers and now Wests Tigers.
Since both players have been at their current clubs, they have only met once (back in 2016) with Taylor’s Wests Tigers defeating De Belin’s Dragons 25-12 at ANZ Stadium.
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Representative teams calling?
Off the back of stellar 2016 seasons and promising starts to 2017, it might not be long before both players are back in the representative arena again. Taylor played 10 Tests for New Zealand between 2011 and 2013, and was again in the train-on squad for the Four Nations before failing to make the final roster.
On the other hand, De Belin got his first taste of representative football with the Country Origin side last year, and will be looking to push further into the Blues State of Origin team for 2017 having already taken part in the Emerging Blues camp just over 12 months ago. With a full representative round to come later this year, as well as a World Cup at the end of it, don’t be surprised to see either Taylor or De Belin featuring in representative teams in 2017.
80 minutes no more?
Both capable of playing big minutes, it’s fascinating to note the role in which Taylor and De Belin have been used by their respective coaches throughout the past 18 months. In 2017, Taylor has played 61, 66 and 60 minutes while De Belin has played 64, 67, 63 and 66 — respective averages of 62.3 and 65 minutes per game.
Not including injury, however, it’s worth noting that those averages are well down on what both players were punching out in 2016 with Taylor only dropping below 62 minutes three times and De Belin below 65 seven times throughout the entire season. In fact, towards the back end of 2016, De Belin had emerged as an 80-minute player — playing the full game in five of his last seven matches — while ET also played the full 80 on a handful of occasions. However, if the trend in reduced minutes so far in 2017 is anything to go by, barring injuries, the days of either player playing the full 80 minutes appear over for now.
What he said...
“We’re coming up against a side that will be desperate and looking to improve on last week. I thought they played quite well against Melbourne and that’ll be tough. The fact we haven’t missed many tackles is allowing us to play some attacking footy, but we’ve got make sure that our goal-line defence is good.” — Dragons Coach, Paul McGregor