Over the weekend, Tom Liberatore managed to equal the record for the most tackles laid in a game in the history of recording the measure (since 1986[ref]at least on afltables.com[/ref]) with 19. He could have absolutely smashed the record considering he was on 17 tackles at 3⁄4 time. This is also the second time this year the record has been equalled, after Jack Zieballs 19 tackles in Round 3, with the original record set by Jude Bolton in Round 3, 2011.
As we can see, above, most of the top games in terms of tackles have all occurred since the 2009 grand final. In fact, when we plot the average number of tackles per game across each round since 1986, we see that there is a clear upward trend in tackles per game.
We can also see that the best tackler within a season (essentially the Coleman Medal of tackling, herein referred to “The Lenny”[ref]Named after the loveable Lenny Hayes, current holder of the ‘Most tackles in a career’[/ref]) has been increasing each year.
This is similar to the trend others have shown in stoppages, although not quite as dramatic. One complication of tracking changes in tackles over time is that they are a relatively new measure whose definition has become very specific.
A tackle can be defined as using physical contact to prevent an opponent in possession of the ball from getting an effective disposal. If a player has on, two, or more players hanging off him and executes an effective kick or handball, then a tackle will not be awarded.
While we can’t test the theory, one might speculate that the advancements in resources by the official statistics provider, Champion Data, have allowed for better classification of tackles. While the increase in stoppages certainly points towards more successful tackles, some of the increase in tackles may also be down to us getting better at measuring tackles. Hard to measure but fun to speculate!
Going back to the Lenny Medal race for this year, while Liberatore and Ziebell had big one off games, they aren’t leading the race for the top stop. So far this year, that goes to Andrew Swallow with 68 (an average of 8.5 per game). Liberatore is in fact all the way down at 16th with 48 (6 per game), while Ziebell is 26th with 45 (5.6 per game). Impressively, Liam Shiels from Hawthorn is 4th with 58 from only 6 matches, at an average of 9.7 per game.
Where that fits in the overall best season is below. Certainly, Swallow is tracking nicely to come close to breaking his own record, which, if the trend for increases in tackles continues, is probably what we would expect!