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The Mercato - Bye Beware! (Part 2)


And welcome to part two of Round 13’s The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. If you haven’t caught part one, you can do so here as I go through the trade implications for your origin guns. In part two, I sweep through each position and look at the main protagonists for round 13. To check out how a player’s bye coverage fits your overall scheme, be sure to download a copy of our bye planner from here and plug in your team.

Another reminder that in round 13, you can only have 13 players in alignment with the starting 13, which of course is:

  • 1 HOK

  • 3 MIDs

  • 2 EDGs

  • 2 HLFs

  • 2 CTRs

  • 3 WFBs


Any position where you have excess players will result in positional wastage, however you can look to loop in some instances where you have players in that same position on the bye. For Hynes or Cleary owners, looping in the HLFs should be easy if you still have Isaiya Katoa and are on the fence about buying another HLF to play over him. With Katoa playing in the first game on Thursday against the Dragons, sit Cleary/Hynes in the starting HLF slot and Katoa on the bench and await his score. If he goes well and you would be happy copping that score, do nothing and his score will be added once the final game kicks off on Sunday. If you’re not happy with it, trade in another HLF and look to move Isaiya on in round 14.


I’ll be personally looking to run a squad of: Jeremy Marshall-King, Joseph Tapine, Corey Horsburgh, Hame Sele, J’Maine Hopgood, Jack Bird, Dylan Brown (VC), Shaun Johnson (C), Connelly Lemeulu, Zac Lomax, Scott Drinkwater, Kalyn Ponga and Kaeo Weekes.


Let’s now look at each position, starting with the Hooker position.


Hooker (HOK)

Main Protagonists: Damien Cook ($698k), Reece Robson ($669k), Jeremy Marshall-King ($703k)


It’s pretty much a straight shootout between three players priced with $34k of each other:

  • Damien Cook’s reduction in production (and consequently price) has purely been down to a drop in attacking stats, which I covered here. The loss of value is academic for potential buyers, as the 54.8 average in 2023 is more than enough for a $698k player. Cook will miss round 16, which should easily be covered by cheapies such as Jake Turpin ($337k) or Simpkin ($220k). The only real risk is if he were to get called up for origin game 3 and miss round 19, but Simpkin could easily be a cash out if that were to occur. Souths also have a bye in round 20, but Harry Grant will be available to re-acquire if you must net a HOK. Cook would be my number one pick if I were buying this week.

  • Jeremy Marshall-King has really taken to the 80-minute hooking role like a….dolphin to water? A 52.5 average in 80-minute performances is solid, and with the Dolphins remaining byes in round 16 and 21 he will be slightly more friendly than Cook. Like Cook, his round 16 absence can be covered by a Turpin or Simpkin. I personally own JMK, and would recommend him to any risk-averse coach that wants a Kiwi that can’t play origin.

  • Reece Robson has really let the surname down of late, dropping $94k in 5 weeks thanks to a 5-round average of 47.4. Alarms are pounding for the owners of Reece as he’s had nine, six and six Missed Tackles in the past three weeks respectively, appearing to be waning having not yet had a bye. A promising sign is the potential return of Jason Taumalolo, whom Robson has averaged 2.6 MTs when playing alongside in 2023. Robson plays all the first two major byes (13, 16) and misses round 15 and 19 due to byes. The round 15 bye should be an easy solve with the likes of Boyd or the above-mentioned cheapies, much like round 19. Given his recent form, I’d struggle to recommend Robson.


Middle Forwards (MID)

Main Protagonists: J’Maine Hopgood ($771k), Jack de Belin ($820k), Addin Fonua-Blake ($805k), Tohu Harris ($671k), Joseph Tapine ($688k), Corey Horsburgh ($709k)


If you’re picking up MIDs this week, there’s plenty of value on offer:

  • J’Maine Hopgood is a perfect DPP to have across the bye period, as he plays all three major bye rounds (13, 16, 19). Most coaches will utilise him in the weaker EDG position in round 13 before shifting him up to the MIDs in round 16 to take advantage of the stack of quality EDG options. Yes, the round 14 bye is troublesome but he should be one of your red dots in that week.

  • Jack de Belin is captaincy material (both for the Dragons and your fantasy team). Whilst he’s a super option, he’s $49k more expensive than Hopgood and isn’t available for round 16 which will be the most difficult major bye round. If you haven’t got him yet, you’ve probably missed the bus.

  • Addin Fonua-Blake has been outstanding in 2023, leading the try scoring charts for the Warriors. He’ll probably keep scoring the odd try here or there, but at $805k he’ll need to do a lot more than that to be worth it. Warriors only miss round 16 which is very handy, but his cheaper teammate is where I would go.

  • Tohu Harris is brilliant value at $671k and would be all the better for the week off after a knee scare a few weeks ago. That knee risk is still there, but with a 63.8 average in 80-minute games he’s the best buy this week if you really need a third MID for round 13.

  • Joseph Tapine has frustrated owners this season, averaging 51.4 in 50.6 minutes. The PPM is still above 1, but it needs to be better. If you need a reason to avoid him, just ask any day 1 Tapine owner who can’t wait to trade him at round 16. When Tohu is cheaper and shares the same bye schedule, Tapine isn’t it this week.

  • Corey Horsburgh has become fantasy relevant again in 2023, averaging 56.7 points in 66.5 minutes across his six lock starts. The minutes the last few weeks have dropped into the low 60s, but throw that out the window as he’s been named on the edge. Whilst he’s a better buy than Tapine, I wouldn’t take him over Tohu.


Edge Forwards (EDG)

Main Protagonists: J’Maine Hopgood ($771k), Jack Bird ($708k), Haumole Olakau’atu ($683k), Connelly Lemuelu ($666k), Heilum Luki ($523k), Lachlan Fitzgibbon ($630k), Bryce Cartwright ($520k)


When looking for EDGs this week, you may need to spend up to ensure compatibility with the great round 16 options:

  • J’Maine Hopgood, Jack Bird and Connelly Lemuelu are covered in their other positions.

  • Haumole Olakau’atu, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Bryce Cartwright all feature in round 13 and then miss round 14. As below-par keepers, you probably don’t want to fill your round 14 red dots with these assets. Especially Fitzgibbon and Cartwright, who feature in round 16 but will be surpassed by superior options.

  • Heilum Luki wasn’t a buy a last week unless you were desperate for cash. If you got him, it’s a simple case of using him in your EDG this week (and potentially next) before trading him in round 15 when the Cowboys hit their first bye.


Halves (HLFs)

Main Protagonists: Shaun Johnson ($808k), Mitchell Moses ($813k), Dylan Brown ($764k), Cody Walker ($708k), Adam Reynolds ($660k), Jamal Fogarty ($660k)


With the HLFs in round 13, you will get what you pay for:

  • Shaun Johnson is the king of the first segment of the major bye period, playing all the way through to round 16 before finishing up his byes in round 20. He’s only scored below 50 twice this season, so has a strong floor as a captaincy option against the baby Broncos. If needing an elite HLF this week, I’d edge SJ over Moses purely because he’ll be available in round 14.

  • Mitchell Moses boasts the ability to feature in all three major byes (13, 16 and 19) for your squad and is a high-ceiling player. With a couple of slower games of late, Moses has hovered around $800k and is still undervalued. As mentioned above, I’d lean SJ if you had neither just because that round 14 bye is treacherous with origin players to backup.

  • Dylan Brown also plays all three byes like his halves partner Moses, with the added bonus of being a Kiwi. Brown is in a purple patch with three scores above 70 in his last 4 games and could keep the momentum up against the hapless Cowboys. My only concern about jumping on him now is he’s only $49k cheaper than Moses, who’s averaged 8 points per game more thus far. Like Moses, you need to be careful of your round 14 red dots.

  • Cody Walker has been a revelation in 2023, leading the league in try assists and line break assists. Despite this, he only averages 52.2 and will probably struggle without Murray splintering the attack against the Raiders. A player who won’t be a keeper that still has 3 byes in the bank? It’s a no for me, Clive.

  • Adam Reynolds started the season hot but has been brought back to the pack. Reynolds is great value at $660k having averaged 53.5 in completed games, but with byes in rounds 16 and 19 he’s a hard avoid with that high BE.

  • Jamal Fogarty has resurrected his fortunes after torching me at the start of the season. Fogarty has averaged over 50 since the round 8 bye despite not having the goalkicking duties. He would probably need that to be relevant, but with byes in rounds 16 and 20 it’s not worth going him “because he’s a POD” at 0.73% ownership.


Centres (CTR)

Main Protagonists: Jack Bird ($708k), Connelly Lemuelu ($666k), Dane Gagai ($694k), Campbell Graham ($610k), Will Penisini ($591k), Herbie Farnworth ($594k), Matthew Timoko ($630k)


When looking at CTRs for the week, OOP is the best bet:

  • Jack Bird and Connelly Lemuelu are brilliant OOP DPPs that feature in round 13. Whilst neither feature in round 16, Joseph Manu owners shouldn’t have too much trouble pairing him with a cheaper CTR. If you have neither, now is still a good time to buy with the option to shift up to the EDG for the round if you have excess round 13 CTRs.

  • Dane Gagai is proof that Billy Slater doesn’t play fantasy, as Gagai has averaged 52 with only three sub-40 performances to date. He’s maintained this type of run before, and with an origin snub he’ll be fired up to perform. The main issue is that round 14 bye, which will rightfully veer most coaches to look elsewhere.

  • Campbell Graham is a surprise in the fact that he’s available to play this round. Yes he’s averaged 47 thus far, but the fact he was withdrawn due to inability to feature in all training sessions is the red flag we need to stay away.

  • Will Penisini is another revelation, averaging 45.2 and a season low of 32. A consistent pure CTR, but much like Gagai that round 14 bye should be enough warning to stay clear.

  • Herbie Farnworth has been a proper workhorse for the Broncos, averaging 44.8 and being what we hoped Kotoni Staggs would be. He’s a solid hold for this week, but with byes is rounds 16 and 19 he’s definitely not worth recruiting.

  • Matthew Timoko is another who’s lifted the intensity in 2023, averaging 44.5 despite a poor 16 last round. Whilst he would be a delicious POD in your CTRs, that 16 has his BE far above where you’d like it. Not to mention, he still has two byes in rounds 16 and 20 to contend with which means he’s an avoid.


Winger/Fullbacks (WFBs)

Main Protagonists: Greg Marzhew ($625k), Jamayne Isaako ($606k), Reuben Garrick ($536k), Clint Gutherson ($579k), Scott Drinkwater ($559k), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ($52k), Kalyn Ponga ($420k)


Plenty of decent options without any must-haves, WFB is just asking for BDE trades:

  • Did anyone see Greg Marzhew as the highest regular averaging WFB that’s available in round 13? I sure didn’t! Marzhew averages a whopping 8.4 TBs and 193.4 run metres which basically gets him to his season low of 34 (twice), a solid floor. Marzhew averages a whopping 60 in matches where he scores a try, which is not to be sneezed at. I struggle to talk anyone into buying him given he’s a winger with a round 14 bye, but certainly wouldn’t talk anyone out of it.

  • Jamayne Isaako is another I didn’t expect on my round 13 WFB bingo card. Firing again under Bennett, Isaako averages just under a try per game and 3.6 goals, cashing in when the Dolphins attack clicks. Much like Marzhew, I struggle to recommend a winger worth over $600k, but he has the runs on the board.

  • Reuben Garrick has soared back into relevance, with two 50+ scores on the bounce. A failed HIA against the Panthers in round 6 did fantasy coaches a solid as it helped chip his price down to as low as $491k. In games where he’s completed at least the 80 on the wing, goalkicker Garrick averages 47.5 with a 0.6 try scoring rate. At $536k he’s a great price, but again I can’t talk myself into buying a winger that doesn’t play in round 14.

  • Clint Gutherson has played well from a footy perspective, albeit that hasn’t translated to fantasy. The only games where he’s scored above 50 have required multiple tries, which isn’t great optics for another player on this list that misses round 14 with a bye.

  • Scott Drinkwater is definitely in the midst of a bounceback, scoring 57 despite the Cowboys getting belted 66-18 by the Tigers. As evidence by his kick metres, Drinkwater is getting very active in attack and as a result is rolling with a five-round average of 47.6. With a manageable first bye in round 15, Drinkwater is still a great pickup with the potential to move him on at round 19 (second bye) or hold if he looks like a keeper.

  • Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been superb for the Warriors, although like Gutherson it hasn’t translated to fantasy. CNK’s only score above 50 came in round 1 when he scored his only try. He’s averaged 38.9 in completed games, with potential upside should he find some direct attacking stats. With availability in round 19 which is tricky for WFBs, he’s an okay option if you can afford to be patient although he’s not for me.

  • Last but not least, Kalyn Ponga. At $420k, some coaches might say you need to consume some substances to think he’s a worthwhile trade-in, given he's only played two full games in the past 10 months. Back at fullback where he boasts a career average of around 50, Ponga does provide temptation as a Hail Mary play. Especially when you can net $133k by bringing him in for Miller. The worst that could happen is he gets another head knock and you have to trade him back out. The upside is there, if you’re game enough to make the BDE play.


And that wraps up the round 13 edition of The Mercato. Despite previous proclamations, I will not be producing another edition of The Mercato next week as I take a spell in the casualty ward. But have no fear, there’s still plenty of podcasts to sink your teeth into across the week. Go the Blues in game one and if you’re not sure on your trades, just send it!

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