BY my estimation, Cameron Smith made well in excess of 20,000 tackles during his illustrious rugby league career.
In a record 430 appearances for Melbourne Storm, he was credited with 16,917 tackles, the most by any player in first-grade history.
Throw in his 56 Tests for Australia, 42 State of Origins for Queensland, four All Stars games and three World Club Challenge showdowns, and that amounts to at least another 4000 defensive efforts, just by doing the maths and averaging it out.
And that doesn't even include the trial games he would have played during his 19 years in the NRL.
Smith will be remembered as one of the greatest game managers of all time, who revolutionised ball-playing out of dummy-half, but that perhaps overshadows what a prolific defender he was.
Yet in amongst 20,000-odd tackles, I don't recall him once suffering a concussion.
I'm not saying that didn't happen on occasion, but it certainly wasn't a recurring issue, and the reason for that was Smith had the perfect defensive technique.
Despite having a physique that many said belonged to an accountant, Smith would invariably play a crucial role in not just halting the progress of a full-tilt ball-carrier with a 25-kilogram weight advantage, but preventing him from getting to his feet to play the ball until the last possible second. I remember him being referred to as an "octopus", and Paul Gallen marvelling at Smith's ability to "absorb" the momentum of an attacker.
As well as technique, the other factors behind Smith's effectiveness as a defender were obviously his outstanding natural ability, and his experience.
Given that his father was a former Brisbane first-grade player and Smith was a junior star, I'm assuming that from a formative age he was shown how to tackle, and that he practised until it became ingrained in him, as second nature.
All of which brings me to Kalyn Ponga, and the incident last weekend that has cast doubt over his playing future. In complete contrast to Smith, I don't think anyone can categorise Ponga as a great defender. I didn't need to see his shocking head clash with Tigers back-rower Asa Kepaoa to make that statement.
Whereas Smith was presumably racking up tackles in his junior years, Ponga was making a name for himself as a touch-footy dynamo, before joining a Brisbane private school to play fullback in their rugby union team.
From there, he was head-hunted by North Queensland Cowboys before the Knights poached the 18-year-old - on the strength of two NRL games on the wing - by offering a massive four-year contract.
All the way along, it was Ponga's freakish ability with the ball in hand that was attracting attention and pay cheques.
But after being helped from the field on Sunday - the seventh time in his past 18 games he has required a head-injury assessment - suddenly the decision to move him from fullback to five-eighth has attracted scrutiny from a host of highly qualified observers.
And while I agree with Knights coach Adam O'Brien, who has rightly argued that every other concussion Ponga suffered occurred while wearing the No.1 jersey, the question I now find myself asking is how can the 24-year-old be expected to cope with the heavy traffic he will face in the front line, when it is clearly uncharted territory?
To put it in context, over his 99-game NRL career, Ponga has made 397 tackles. That's four per game.
Compare that to the 25 or 30 tackles pivots might have to make each week, and remember that in 2019 then Knights coach Nathan Brown abandoned the fullback-to-five-eighth experiment after just three games, because Ponga was being exposed in defence.
Then there was the pre-season trial against Parramatta last month, in which Mitchell Moses made Ponga look like a turnstile.
After Ponga's setback last weekend, Knights coaching consultant Andrew Johns has declared the club needs to implement a plan to "protect" him. But how, exactly?
He was, remember, getting knocked around at fullback, either crashing to the turf catching high balls, or flying across in cover defence trying to prevent a rampaging Viliame Kikau from scoring a try.
Possibly O'Brien could consider moving him to wing in defence, where he may need to make only a few tackles - often one-on-one - each game, and his catching skills would come in handy.
The other option might be a left-field ploy Queensland coach Kevin Walters used in Ponga's Origin debut in 2018. After just 24 NRL games, Ponga was named on the bench. With Billy Slater playing fullback, the big question was where would the rookie defend? In the centres? On the wing?
Walters surprised everyone by deploying him in the middle of the ruck, and Ponga proceeded to rack up 29 tackles in 52 minutes, mostly around the hips and thighs, from marker.
It was a masterstroke. But that was a one-off, and whether it is feasible over the course of a season is another matter altogether.
All that can be said with any certainty is that Ponga, his medical specialists and Knights officials are now in an unenviable position.
There will inevitably be an element of guesswork in whatever decision they make.
And rest assured that rival teams will continue to target the highest-paid player in Newcastle's history. That's the nature of the beast.
In the NRL, there is nowhere to hide.
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