top of page

The Mercato - Building Blocks

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. After a #MercatoMiniSeries looking at all things draft, we return to the classic format to explore the latest update from the NRL Fantasy noticeboard.

The latest update hit the notice board on 4pm Tuesday 23rd January, which reads as follows:

"Players: NRL Fantasy currently has all officially contracted Top 30 players for all teams. Any new Top 30 players will be added ASAP. The development-contract players in each squad (e.g. the Storm's Sualuavi Faalogo) will be added in early February.
Round 1 Team Announcements: Team lists for Round 1 will follow standard rules of anouncement. This means the teams for the first two games of the split Round 1 (i.e. Broncos, Rabbitohs, Roosters & Sea Eagles) will be announced as follows:*Game Squad: 4pm AEDT on Tuesday, 27 Feb*24-hour squad update: 1.30pm on Saturday, 2 Mar*1-hour squad update: 12.30pm on Sunday, 3 MarThis same cycle will be followed for all remaining matches in the season, starting Tuesday, 5 Mar.”

The first part about the players is in line with expectations. We’ll see these players added to the game in February or failing that when they are named to play on Team List Tuesday (TLT).

Which brings us to the more important part of the update in terms of the TLT situation. There had been some speculation that all sixteen teams would all be announced on the first TLT, however that won’t be the case. In this edition of The Mercato, we’ll have a look at what that means for Fantasy coaches and the safeguarding measures we can take into round 1.

Example Team

To illustrate the impacts of having two TLTs for round 1 (that we’ll call A and B), I am going to use my current sketch. Note that it won’t be what my final round 1 team looks like, but I anticipate that most of the core pieces will remain. This sketch currently has $35k in the bank.


Round One Safeguards

As we elaborated on in last year’s Talking League Textbook, setting up your round 1 team correctly will enable you to have maximum flexibility during the round. Whilst we don’t usually cop too much last-minute chaos, the last thing you want is to be caught out by a last-minute absence or squad change.

To refresh your memory, round 1 is a rolling lockout. This means that you can use as many “trades” as you like to drop players until they are “locked”. A player will become locked when the match their team is involved in starts, or once the first match starts if they are your Captain (C) or Vice Captain (VC). To maximise your flexibility during this unique rolling lockout, we want to take the following actions:

  • Put the Vice Captain on a decent player that plays early in the round. In my sketch, I have the VC on Payne Haas but you could feasibly put it on Cameron Murray (if you selected him) or even a mid-ranger playing in Vegas (Angus Crichton, Brandon Smith etc). This enables us to move any player that has not yet played (besides our Captain).

  • Put the players from your best 17 that play earliest on the starting 13. This enables you the flexibility to replace any player on your bench from any position (as opposed to the position on the starting 13 that they occupy). Whilst we would usually put our DPPs on the bench from round 2, in this example team we have sufficient HOKs (Lussick, Levi) to enable Smith to be starting HOK, enough EDGs (Crichton, Blore, Piakura, Curran) for Schuster to be starting HLF as well as all of our non-Vegas MIDs (Curran, Knight and Hughes) all playing for the same team.

The impact of TLT B

Having TLT A and TLT B will cause a few issues for fantasy coaches. Namely, we won’t know who will be named for the teams on TLT B until after the games from TLT A have been played in Vegas. With all those players (plus our VC and C) locked in, our flexibility will be limited.

Heading back to my sketch, the following players will be locked out before TLT B drops:

  • Josh Schuster ($408k)

  • Tevita Tatola ($485k)

  • Tyrone Munro ($350k)

  • Brandon Smith ($540k)

  • Angus Crichton ($501k)

  • Payne Haas (VC, $880k)

  • Brendan Piakura ($399k)

  • Nathan Cleary (C, $1m)

With these players, I have 8 of my 21 slots locked in as well as $4.653m of my salary cap. This means, I have $5.437m of my salary cap to spend on my remaining 13 players. This equates to about $418k per remaining player, which doesn’t seem like much. But if we assume we will have 4 cashies (I wouldn’t bank on more) that will cost $1m combined, I now have $4.437m to spend on my remaining 9 players. This equates to about $500k, which when you consider my only remaining players that cost more than that are Fogarty ($637k), Penisini ($582k), Blore ($518k) and Curran ($501k), I am not over-reliant on cheapies. This means that I have plenty of room to pivot should TLT B turn out spicy.

Basement Price CTRs and Big Boys

Something I have observed regularly in the teams that have reached our DMs and our team advice posts on Facebook is base price CTR pairing containing two of Ethan Strange ($250k), Ben Trbojevic ($250k), Kayal Iro ($230k).

Before we get into the chances of these players suiting up in round 1, I want to re-iterate that we enjoy talking about your teams with you. So please don’t hesitate to post your team on these posts or to hit us up in the DMs. We’re a fantasy podcast, we love sharing our knowledge and perspectives in pursuit of your overall and/or h2h ambitions.

When looking at this base price trio, I hold the opinion that we won’t see any of them in a favourable position come TLT as:

  • Siosifa Talakai ($509k) is first choice at left centre, meaning Iro is unlikely to be in the starting 13.

  • Sebastian Kris ($395k) is suspended for round 1 after his appeal to include All-Stars in his suspension was rejected. He will need to come back into the team in round 2, potentially at the expense of Strange should he be named at Centre in round 1.

  • Josh Schuster ($408k) is all good to go for round 1 according to the latest reports from the Sea Eagles, meaning Ben is probably looking at a bench spot at best.

Given the chances of more than one of these CTRs not being viable for round 1, it will be prudent for fantasy coaches to get into the mindset that we may need to spend at least $900k on our round 1 CTR pairing. As you can see in my sketch, I have Will Penisini ($582k) and Mosese Suli ($458k) who cost $1.04m.

Penisini has been pencilled in as he’s the 12th most expensive CTR (only Dane Gagai is $100k+ more expensive) giving me the ability to move him up or down come TLT, plus he is a solid scorer with a career average of 39.7 and 42.3 in 2023 at Centre. When he’s played without Mitchell Moses, his career average at centre is just 32 and in 2023 was 27.2. When plays with Mitchell Moses, his career average is 41.1 and in 2023 was 46.2. With these numbers, it appears that Pensini will be a “safe bet” that at worse should average near his starting price and be someone you could feasibly keep for the season.

Suli has less of a convincing argument than Penisini, however the fact that he’s priced in the $450k range means it shouldn’t be too difficult to shift him up or down if a better option pops up on TLT. Suli averages 33.9 in matches in his career where he plays 60 minutes or more, which is akin to his price of 33.3. What I do like about Suli is he averaged 37 when he played left centre last season, didn’t score an unsustainable amount of tries and has averaged 40+ in a recent season (2022). Coach Shane Flanagan is keen to work on his centres as weapons for his team, so there’s even a bit of narrative. In all honesty, I won’t be selling you hard on starting with Suli as I’m very much on the fence about it myself but with Kris out; he might be the “least worst” CTR option in this price bracket.

The reason it will be prudent to consider options such as these two that are far from base-price is that we may not have a choice. Especially with TLT A and B, Iro and Strange’s fortunes won’t be known until after your TLT A, VC and C are locked in. If you are sitting there with Strange and Iro as your only CTRs and we get unfavourable news on TLT B, you’re going to be on the backfoot and perhaps not a lot of room to move.

This is especially pertinent if your choice to pick two big boys in the same position (Nathan Cleary and Nicho Hynes in the HLFs, Payne Haas and Cameron Murray in the MIDs) is contingent on both Strange and Iro being viable. I personally don’t have too much of an issue should coaches try to run both Cleary and Hynes, even if I will choose not to do it. What I would recommend is to place the C on one of them and keep the VC off the other. This means that if your CTR (or other) plans fall in tatters, you could take out the one who is not your Captain and spread the funds more evenly elsewhere. As for going with Haas and Murray, I think it’s very risky as they will both be locked out before TLT B, meaning you can’t downgrade either to spend more elsewhere. Given we should be blessed in the MID position with plenty of mid-rangers and cashies with upside, the percentage play would be to take a maximum of one of them and lean into the value players in this position.

What if we get the green light?

Whilst there is a low chance of getting both Iro and Strange, there is still a chance. But at this stage, I would be considering that a bonus that you can react to instead of banking on it being a reality. If both are available in favourable conditions (think Strange at 6 and Iro starting), most coaches will follow the traditional wisdom and go cheap in the CTRs. At this stage, I can see a lot of coaches being put into an uncomfortable situation when TLT B hits due to cap saturation by their locked-in players. At Talking League, this is something that we will continue to cover throughout the pre-season and on our round 1 shows.

But that brings us to the end of this edition of The Mercato. In terms of pre-season content, you can catch me on Around The Traps as well as the previews for the Rabbitohs, Dolphins and Titans. Plus, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out my #MercatoMiniSeries on the Draft – you can get started with Part One here. The Draft Special episode that I recorded with Pat will go live from Tuesday February 6, covering all aspects of NRL Fantasy Draft. Be sure to continue to keep your podcast app tuned to Talking League and make advantage of the infinite trades before lockout!



bottom of page