NRL Rd 2 - Titans v Broncos
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 19: David Fifita of the Titans celebrates during the round two NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium on March 19, 2021, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The NRL’s best teams all have excellent ball-runners. Players who can break the line at will, bust tackles with ease and find their way to the try line as a result, either directly or indirectly.

Those elusive players who are difficult to tackle. They are so, so important to any champion team.

Zero Tackle have created a measure which allows us to combine both line breaks and tackle busts to determine the NRL’s most damaging player with the football in hand.

To qualify, a player needed either 15 line breaks, or 75 tackle busts across the course of the regular season.

In attempting to come up with an equal points scoring system, we have assigned one point per line break, and 0.4 points per tackle bust.

The thought process here is that tackle busts happen far more regularly than line breaks, and also shouldn’t be given quite as much weight, because there is the idea that a player clean breaking the line has read the player better and isn’t simply relying on brute strength to fight through.

The aim, of course, is to work out the individual player with the most damaging running style in the NRL. The player who is hardest to stop, hardest to read and hardest to contain.

It has been ranked on a points per game basis, which may mean the leader of this category is no surprise, however, some of the names both in, and out, of the top ten, may surprise you.

Let’s get into the countdown, keeping in mind this only takes into account regular-season games and has been ranked on a points per game ratio.

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10. Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

35 line breaks, 48 tackle busts, 54.2 points (2.85 points per game)
Maybe it should be no surprise to see Johnston on this list after a phenomenal 2021. His try-scoring exploits saw him run on multiple hat-tricks and finish at the pointy end of the leaderboard despite missing a number of games throughout the season.

Had he stayed fit for the entire season, he may well have led the competition for line breaks.

His ability to break tackles saw him add to the try-scorer sheet too in what was a phenomenal campaign falling just short of a premiership.

Well and truly deserves his new contract.

ALEX JOHNSTON
Wing
Rabbitohs
2021 SEASON AVG
1.4
Tries
121.7
All Run Metres
2.9
Tackles Made

9. Reuben Garrick (Manly Sea Eagles)

36 line breaks, 91 tackle busts, 72.4 points (2.90 points per game)
Garrick's 2021 season will be mainly remembered for his unbelievable point-scoring exploits, breaking every record known to the sport at the top level.

But those tries came with plenty of his own ability. 36 line breaks leaves him near enough to the top of the tree at the end of the season, while 91 tackle busts is also a phenomenal effort for a winger who isn't built among the biggest of them.

His running style and tallness make him a tough nut to tackle though, and it shows in the stats.

REUBEN GARRICK
Wing
Sea Eagles
2021 SEASON AVG
0.9
Tries
156.4
All Run Metres
4.7
Tackles Made

8. Matthew Ikuvalu (Sydney Roosters)

16 line breaks, 59 tackle busts, 39.6 points (3.05 points per game)
Ikuvalu is a player who didn't play all that many games in 2021, but didn't he make them count?

At the start of the year, his spot was arguably a disputed one in the Roosters' 13. By the end of it, he will be the first-choice winger alongside Daniel Tupou for 2022.

51 tackle busts in just 12 games is a monstrous effort, as is 16 line breaks. He backed it up with plenty of tries and improved every aspect of his game in 2021.

MATT IKUVALU
Wing
Roosters
2021 SEASON AVG
0.8
Tries
133.2
All Run Metres
4.6
Tackles Made

7. Sione Katoa (Cronulla Sharks)

17 line breaks, 57 tackle busts, 39.8 points (3.06 points per game)
The Cronulla winger may not have got involved in too much busting of tackles, but he did regularly find himself running through defensive lines.

Given he only played 12 games however, it still works out at almost five tackle busts per game, which is a strong average.

He ran the ball hard every time he got his hands on it, and has a running style which normally requires more than a one-on-one tackle to bring him back to Earth.

SIONE KATOA
Hooker
Bulldogs
2021 SEASON AVG
24.6
Tackles Made
0.1
LB Assists
0.2
Try Assists

6. Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders)

15 line breaks, 138 tackle busts, 70.2 points (3.19 points per game)
Rapana has turned himself into a weapon for the Raiders throughout 2021. Returning to the club, his level of output and whether he was in the best 13 was a question.

But by the end of the season, there was no question. Not even close to a question.

Wing or fullback, Rapana turned up every week and skittled opposition defences, making a staggering 138 tackle busts throughout the season.

JORDAN RAPANA
Wing
Raiders
2021 SEASON AVG
0.5
Tries
164.5
All Run Metres
4.9
Tackles Made

5. Latrell Mitchell (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

18 line breaks, 93 tackle busts, 55.2 points (3.25 points per game)
Latrell's season may be remembered for all the wrong reasons following his sickening hit on Joseph Manu which rubbed him out for six weeks, but he played an enormous part in taking South Sydney to the top of the table during the regular-season.

For someone who was formerly touted as a "lazy" fullback by the majority of punters, Mitchell has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 24 or so months.

His 18 line breaks and 93 tackle busts in limited games prove exactly how strong he was, and it didn't seem to matter if he was at fullback for the Rabbitohs or centre for the Blues at State of Origin time.

He is a ball of strength, and that showed time and time again.

LATRELL MITCHELL
Fullback
Rabbitohs
2021 SEASON AVG
0.9
Tries
0.8
Try Assists
5.7
Tackle Breaks

4. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)

15 line breaks, 136 tackle busts, 69.4 points (3.47 points per game)
Tedesco is one of the most elusive ball-runners in the competition and was recently among the top five in the Dally M race.

Making Tedesco's season so impressive was the output staying consistent despite the mass injury crisis all around him and the fact he virtually ended up as an extra kicking option by the end of the season.

That couldn't take anything away from his running game though, and there are few players you'd want running around for your team ahead of the New South Wales State of Origin fullback.

While 136 tackle busts is a staggering number, he also came up with an unreal amount of line breaks, proving he is still one of the best support players in the game.

JAMES TEDESCO
Fullback
Roosters
2021 SEASON AVG
0.4
Tries
1
Try Assists
7
Tackle Breaks

3. Brian To’o (Penrith Panthers)

20 line breaks, 116 tackle busts, 66.4 points (3.69 points per game)
To'o has been excellent for the Panthers. I've made the argument numerous times that he is their most important player, and these are the stats to prove it.

He also featured in our post-contact metres analysis from a few weeks ago, but his ball-running is simply so important to the Panthers.

There is no single player in the competition who consistently gets sets off to as good of a start as To'o does at the Panthers. A genuinely incredible talent who, when injured, made a noticeable different to the eventual premiers' performance.

BRIAN TO'O
Wing
Panthers
2021 SEASON AVG
0.7
Tries
242.2
All Run Metres
3.6
Tackles Made

2. David Fifita (Gold Coast Titans)

22 line breaks, 150 tackle busts, 82.0 points (3.90 points per game)
Before I sat down to compile this list, Fifita was actually my favourite to come out on top.

If it had of been decided based on total points, rather than average points per game, he would have been at the top of the pile too.

His 150 tackle busts is something to behold - a number we may never see again. He had a wrecking ball season on the edge and at times looked absolutely unstoppable.

His 22 line breaks showed how well he was reading the game too, and at a young age, you’d only expect to see more improvement in the years to come from Fifita.

DAVID FIFITA
Second-row
Titans
2021 SEASON AVG
20.6
Tackles Made
0.7
Tries
6.6
Tackle Breaks

1. Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles)

30 line breaks, 105 tackle busts, 72 points (4.80 points per game)
Was it ever going to be anyone else at the top of the tree?

Trbojevic had a ridiculous season with the ball in hand. His almost four try involvements per game would have been enough to tell you that.

His 30 line breaks and 105 tackle busts from just 15 games cemented the idea that he was a deserving winner of the Dally M Medal despite missing nine regular-season games.

He couldn’t drag his team over the line in the preliminary finals, but that shouldn’t take away from what was an exceptional season for the game’s best player.

TOM TRBOJEVIC
Fullback
Sea Eagles
2021 SEASON AVG
1.5
Tries
1.4
Try Assists
6.5
Tackle Breaks

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The full list

Player Name Club Line breaks Tackle busts Points Games Points/game
Tom Trbojevic Sea Eagles 30 105 72 15 4.80
David Fifita Titans 22 150 82 21 3.90
Brian To'o Panthers 20 116 66.4 18 3.69
James Tedesco Roosters 15 136 69.4 20 3.47
Latrell Mitchell Rabbitohs 18 93 55.2 17 3.25
Jordan Rapana Raiders 15 138 70.2 22 3.19
Sione Katoa Sharks 17 57 39.8 13 3.06
Matt Ikuvalu Roosters 16 59 39.6 13 3.05
Reuben Garrick Sea Eagles 36 91 72.4 25 2.90
Alex Johnston Rabbitohs 35 48 54.2 19 2.85
Jesse Ramien Sharks 7 101 47.4 17 2.79
Corey Thompson Titans 16 78 47.2 17 2.78
Josh Addo-Carr Storm 28 74 57.6 21 2.74
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck Warriors 11 81 43.4 17 2.55
Maika Sivo Eels 19 81 51.4 21 2.45
Mikaele Ravalawa Dragons 17 55 39 16 2.44
Dane Gagai Rabbitohs 14 79 45.6 20 2.28
Kyle Feldt Cowboys 15 74 44.6 20 2.23
Isaiah Papali'i Eels 7 106 49.4 23 2.15
Joseph Manu Roosters 12 92 48.8 23 2.12
Matt Burton Panthers 24 56 46.4 22 2.11
Dylan Edwards Panthers 5 84 38.6 19 2.03
Clinton Gutherson Eels 14 81 46.4 23 2.02
Jahrome Hughes Storm 19 61 43.4 22 1.97
Justin Olam Storm 11 80 43 22 1.95
David Nofoaluma Tigers 10 89 45.6 24 1.90
Nicho Hynes Storm 15 67 41.8 22 1.90
Viliame Kikau Panthers 12 79 43.6 23 1.90
Connor Tracey Sharks 16 69 43.6 24 1.82
Jack Bird Dragons 5 83 38.2 22 1.74
William Kennedy Sharks 15 62 39.8 24 1.66
Daniel Tupou Roosters 17 53 38.2 24 1.59
Connor Watson Knights 3 75 33 24 1.38
Jason Saab Sea Eagles 16 33 29.2 24 1.22
Charlie Staines Panthers 15 20 23 20 1.15

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