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Who is hardest hitter of the modern era - Matai or Taufua?

They're the players who make the biggest impact in defence – literally – and can bring the crowd to their feet without needing the ball in their hands.

Rugby league's defensive enforcers turned the simple tackle into an artform and made a habit of stopping attackers in their tracks in the most dramatic way possible.

And in the vote to see who's the hardest hitter of the modern era, it's down to an all-Manly man to man battle between Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua.

NRL.com recently called on the fans to vote for the Simply The Best players from 1990 to now to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tina Turner promotional campaign, which was again featured in this year's Telstra Premiership advertisement.

After more than 850,000 votes, the Simply the Best team of the last 30 years was made up of superstars across the board with Melbourne mentor Craig Bellamy named the greatest coach of the modern era. 

Now it's time to find out who were the best heavy hitters of the past three decades.

You can no longer vote via the poll in this article – we have trimmed the candidates down to the two frontrunners, Matai and Taufua, with polls on the official NRL Instagram and Facebook accounts deciding once and for all which player is Simply The Best.

 

VOTE: Who is the hardest hitter of the modern era!? 💥 Bird Gang... this one is TOUGH 😳

Posted by NRL - National Rugby League on Tuesday, 16 June 2020

The NRL.com newsroom initially narrowed the race down to 10 and such was the quality of options, we could find no room for the likes of long-time sparring partners Paul Harragon and Mark Carroll, the best giant-killer of all in Geoff Toovey, the "wild Panther" Mark Geyer, Solomon Haumono, Ben Te'o, Matt Rua, Dylan Napa or Wade Graham.

Simply The Best hard hitter nominees

(in alphabetical order)

Sam Burgess' career highlights

Sam Burgess

He scored tries, he made offloads, he ate up metres for fun, and he won the Clive Churchill Medal in one of the toughest grand final performances of all time – but Rabbitohs and England star Sam Burgess was also a brutal enforcer in defence.

Known for the kind of all-out aggression that made him a frequent visitor to the judiciary in his later years, Burgess was a player who thrived on one-on-one hits on the oppositions' big men. 

Tonie Carroll

Darren Lockyer's bodyguard in defence for the Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos (and also a New Zealand international), the man known as "Tunza" had thighs like tree trunks and a perfect tackling technique that left its mark on anyone brave enough to run the ball his way.

Wayne Bennett would station the bulky back-rower in the defensive line next to Lockyer and it worked to perfection to keep his star playmaker fresh for attack and Carroll would eat up the big boppers that came their way.

Broncos stalwart Tonie Carroll.
Broncos stalwart Tonie Carroll. ©NRL Photos

David Gillespie

They don't come much harder than the man they called "Cement", a nuggety second-rower then prop for the Bulldogs, Wests and Manly in the 1980s and '90s who played 16 Tests for Australia. 

There was nothing pretty about his game but his brutal tackling style meant many of his opponents quickly learned how to sidestep to ensure they veered away from his presence in the defensive line.

David Gillespie on the run for Canterbury at Belmore in 1986.
David Gillespie on the run for Canterbury at Belmore in 1986. ©NRL Photos

Trevor Gillmeister

Known as "The Axe" (the big hitters get the best nicknames) for the way in which he chopped down opponents, Gillmeister was a bruising defender who regularly cut ball-runners in half.

He built his reputation as a top tackler in five years at the Roosters before returning home to Brisbane to play for the Broncos, going on to play 22 games for Queensland and three for Australia, while also stiffening up Penrith and South Queensland's defensive lines.

Trevor Gillmeister was a valuable member of Brisbane's 1992-93 premiership-winning teams.
Trevor Gillmeister was a valuable member of Brisbane's 1992-93 premiership-winning teams. ©NRL Photos

Steve Matai

It's not just the forwards who have made their presence known, with Manly centre Matai making a habit of rushing out of the defensive line to launch his shoulder at opposition backs.

Steve Matai pulls off a monstrous hit on Souths forward Dave Tyrrell.
Steve Matai pulls off a monstrous hit on Souths forward Dave Tyrrell. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

When it didn't go wrong (he had his share of missed tackles and equalled the record for the most trips to the judiciary) it was spectacular.

Adrian Morley

The English international was another volatile forward who sailed a little too close to the wind on occasion and found himself in judiciary strife but when he was on the field for the Roosters from 2001-06 they were a pack to be feared.

English forward Adrian Morley.
English forward Adrian Morley. ©NRL Photos

Morley used to love rushing out of the defensive line to put a big hit on an opposing forward and brought the same fire and brimstone approach to the international arena.

Nigel Plum

While he was never a representative star, Nigel Plum would regularly top the annual players' poll of the hardest hitter in the NRL during his 11-year career which included stints at the Roosters, Raiders and Panthers.

Nigel Plum eyes off another victim in 2015.
Nigel Plum eyes off another victim in 2015. ©NRL Photos

Plum was all about technique and his hits would often knock the wind - and stuffing - out of opponents due to his perfect timing and granite-like impact.

Ian Roberts

In the 1990s there was no bigger threat to an attacking player in the middle of the ruck than Roberts.

An imposing figure, he would often level opponents during his club career with Souths, Manly and the Cowboys, while he always added an extra layer of starch in the representative arena with NSW and Australia.

Ian Roberts was a colossal figure at club, state and Test level.
Ian Roberts was a colossal figure at club, state and Test level.

Jorge Taufua

Manly's modern-day hit man proves that wingers can tackle. Well, not all of them, but Taufua makes a mockery of that reputation by charging in from his flank to flatten playmakers and centres before they can spread the ball wide.

Taufua lays out Munster with monster hit

A couple of his hits have gone viral across the globe in the social media era, including his memorable bell-ringer on Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster in 2019.

Sonny Bill Williams 

Before the shoulder charge was banned, the greatest exponent of using it to knock down a defender was the dual international.

The best of SBW

He quickly gained a reputation as a heavy hitter during his rookie year at Canterbury in 2004 and showed during his second stint in the NRL at the Roosters that he could still put opponents on their haunches with seemingly limitless power.