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Nerves of Steele: The toughest tagger in footy

Jack Steele has forged himself a reputation as one of the league's toughest competitors. - St Kilda Saints,Carlton Blues,Jack Steele,Patrick Cripps
Jack Steele has forged himself a reputation as one of the league's toughest competitors.

Save for Nick Hind’s brilliant dash through the centre of the ground and Ben Long’s long-range bomb, Saturday's highlights reel was rightly slanted in favour of Carlton.

But missing from the game’s best moments was Patrick Cripps.

The man responsible?  Jack Steele. 

St Kilda’s No. 9 blanketed the Brownlow favourite throughout the afternoon, keeping the midfield ace to a hard-earned 22 disposals in front of over 50,000 supporters. 

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Although 15 of Cripps’ possessions were contested, most were a product of Steele’s hard tag; his unrelenting pressure seeing the champion Blue squeeze out 17 handballs. 

Cripps was held away from the centre of the ground, and was forced to spend most of his day trapped along the outer wing with the hardened Saint in tow.  

In a difficult year for St Kilda, Steele has emerged from the fire as one the league’s toughest competitors.

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It’s evidently not the first time he’s put the squeeze on the opposition this year. 

Across his superb season, the 23-year-old has topped the tackle count 12 times from his 19 outings. 

A club record 18 tackles against North Melbourne in Round 16 showed the tackling machine at the peak of his powers, while performances against Melbourne (12), Gold Coast (10) and Carlton earlier this season (10) have been among the best of his career. 

Jack Steele has beaten his own impressive records this season, with his 18-tackle display against the Roos a season highlight.

Tackling has become the hallmark of his game, but the Saints enforcer has highlighted his two-way running, ability to accumulate the footy and earn his own footy at the clearances. 

And doing it all against the competition’s elite talents has shown just how far Steele’s game has progressed. 

Even amid a dour day for the Saints on Saturday, interim coach Brett Ratten was quick to heap praise on the No. 9. 

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“He’s a very good player, Steele; he plays on the best players nearly every week,” Ratten said post-match. 

“When you look at his year and the challenges that are thrown at him, there’s no doubt he’d probably win 80% of those battles, which is just phenomenal when you think he’s against the A-graders. 

“And he beats them all the time.  He probably doesn’t get the accolades that he should.” - Brett Ratten

 Now with one round remaining, Steele leads the league for tackles (157), holding a slender advantage over West Coast’s Elliot Yeo (156).

The talented Saint has played one less game than West Coast’s hard-nut this season, and last week trailed the count by five.

With the reputation as the competition’s best tackler in 2019 on the line, there’s no way the Man of Steele will let that title slip. 

The Swans had better brace for impact.