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Beating the best

You’d be hard pressed to find a more influential tagger in the AFL than Ben Jacobs.

When it comes to stopping an opponent, while impacting going the other way, Jacobs is at the top of the pile.

On Sunday, he kept Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin to just 16 disposals, the Tiger’s lowest tally since Round 4 of 2017.

That adds to his impressive list of scalps this year.

In the opening eight rounds, Jacobs has had the better of names such as Seb Ross, Clayton Oliver, Patrick Cripps, Tom Mitchell, Luke Parker and Martin.

His ability to significantly reduce the impact of the oppositions most damaging player has been a major factor in the Roos’ form in 2018. 

When you account for him missing nearly two years of AFL football due to injury, it’s a significant feat.

North Media has dissected some of Jacobs’s most impressive performances so far, detailing the impact he has on his opposite number.

Round 2 v St Kilda | Opponent - Seb Ross

With many expecting Jacobs to go to the in-form Jack Steven, coach Brad Scott surprised the Saints by deploying him on Ross. 

While Ross collected collect 23 disposals, he was forced into a more defensive role due to the close attentions of Jacobs, limiting his influence on the contest.

Ross’ reduced impact contributed to the Roos’ 52-point Good Friday victory.

Jacobs himself was able to find the football 18 times, and kicked a goal.

Round 3 v Melbourne | Opponent - Clayton Oliver

Oliver has built a reputation as a ball-winning star over the past couple of seasons, with the young Demon averaging 30 disposals in 2017. 

After 28 and 35 possessions in his first two games of 2018, Oliver was restricted to just 20 touches in the Round 3 clash, as a direct result of some close attention from Jacobs. 

Oliver was only able to get off the chain when he went forward, without Jacobs’ close check.

Round 4 v Carlton | Opponent - Patrick Cripps

Jacobs went head-to-head with another of the competition’s emerging midfield stars in Round 4, as he was given the unenviable role on 195-centimetre young-gun Blue, Patrick Cripps. 

Cripps is enjoying a breakout year, and is averaging 28 disposals per-game, a career-high. 

The Jacobs’ effect was once again in full-force however, with Cripps kept to just 19 disposals, his lowest of the year, and his lowest in a full game since Round 4, 2017.

The shutting down of Carlton’s best player was one of the catalysts for the Roos’ convincing 86-point win. 

Round 5 v Hawthorn | Opponent - Tom Mitchell

After four rounds, Hawthorn was flying, sitting fourth on the ladder with a 3-1 record ahead of the Round 5 clash with North.

Superstar midfielder Tom Mitchell was averaging 40 disposals across the early rounds, and had become the early-season Brownlow Medal favourite, making it a daunting task for Jacobs.

The Roos’ tagger was not phased and followed Mitchell everywhere he went, restricting him to just 19 disposals, his lowest tally as a Hawk, and his lowest overall since Round 16 of 2016.

Jacobs again was able to collect plenty of his own ball as well, matching his opponent’s effort of 19 disposals. 

Halving Mitchell’s productivity went a long way to helping North Melbourne secure a famous win over the Hawks.

Round 7 v Sydney | Opponent - Luke Parker

Star Sydney midfielder Luke Parker was the main focus of Jacobs’ attention in the Round 7 match-up at the SCG. 

While keeping Parker to a modest 21 touches, Jacobs showed off the other side of his game, amassing a season-best 29 disposals of his own and helping the Roos to arguably their best win of the season.

Jacobs delivered an outstanding performance both attacking and defensively, and showed many that he has much more in his arsenal than just being a shut-down player.

Round 8 v Richmond | Opponent - Dustin Martin

Much of the pre-game talk ahead of the Round 8 clash with Richmond was who Jacobs would go to, with his performance in a 2015 elimination final against Trent Cotchin (9 disposals) fresh in many minds. 

However, it was clear from the first bounce that Jacobs had been given the task of taking on arguably the game’s biggest superstar, Martin. 

The Tigers’ number four was kept to just 2 disposals in the opening quarter, and was be restricted to just 16 by the end of the day, his lowest total since Round 4, 2017. 

Like Clayton Oliver, Martin was only really able to impact the game when he went forward and escaped the attention of Jacobs. 

It was another masterful shut-down performance from Jacobs, and helped the Roos remain more than competitive against the reigning premiers.

Jacobs will no doubt have his hands full in the coming rounds, with likely match-ups against players like GWS’ Stephen Coniglio, superstar Docker Nat Fyfe, and in-form Brisbane star Dayne Zorko all to come in the next three weeks. 

If he can maintain his imperious form, and continue to get the better of the best midfielders in the competition, All-Australian selection could be on the cards for the game’s best tagger.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs