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The Mercato - Chronicles #1

And welcome to the final edition for 2023 of The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. Round 27 has come and gone, drawing the curtain on the longest NRL Fantasy Season in history. In this three-part edition, I go through my 2023 season and the thought process behind my moves. If you would like to conduct your own season review, I recommend taking a look at this article I wrote in 2022.

After 27 rounds, I finished with a classic rank of 649. Overall, I’m not too dissatisfied given my slow start and was able to work my way back to a comfortable finish inside the top 1k.

In Part One, I go through rounds 1 to 10 which reads as a perfect summary of what not to do if you want to have a decent rank in NRL Fantasy. Essentially, I took a lot of risks with PODs in my initial squad and then turned to even-riskier players which compounded those initial errors which you will see as you go through this part.

Round 1 – 807 points, Rank 15,417, $15k ITB

Not long after TLT, I unveiled my team in The Portfolio. I wasn’t that unhappy with my start, although I was concerned with the cash generation of my NPRs as Preston, Blore, Katoa and Talau combined for just 58 points. Captain Cameron Murray got the business done with a solid 66 points.

Round 2 – 756 points (1,563 total), Rank 15,120, $15k ITB

After having the luxury of no injuries or suspensions in round 1, I held fire on trades for the first time in several years. Unfortunately, my PODs in Fogarty and Drinkwater flailed with the latter earning a suspension after being binned for a shoulder charge. When combined with Ford failing a HIA and Brandon Smith not over his oblique issues, my rank barely moved as I had several trade-out candidates on the horizon.

Round 3 – 860 points (2,423 total), Rank 5,015, $108k ITB

After carnage in Round 2, trades had to be made. With Drinkwater ($606k, $63k loss) banned for 3 matches, a new WFB was required. I opted for Hayze Perham ($332k) who looked sharp against the Storm and appeared to shaken off the yips from pre-season. With Smith ($531k, $54k loss) looking crocked, I decided to quote JWarrior and “go back to my vomit”, picking up Reed Mahoney ($712k) who looked to have a more influential than he did at the Eels.

Round 4 – 932 points (3,355 total), Rank 5,866, $33k ITB

Round 4 ended up being the first normal round, with guns hitting their straps across the board. I again made two trades, the first seeing me part ways with initial selection Adam Doueihi ($749k, $22k loss). This trade-out was one of past experience, having held onto guns in previous years that were carrying injury concerns and paying for it with value loss and poor point returns. With a Turf Toe concern and a move to fullback, I had no qualms in dealing him for long-lost love Shaun Johnson $646k who passed his three dates. My second trade was far riskier, sending Tanah Boyd ($472k, $7k loss) on his way for Tom Trbojevic ($650k). It backfired and cost me 77 points, as Boyd outscored Trbojevic by 16 and because I traded Boyd I had no HLF cover on the bench when Jamal Fogarty was a late withdrawal with illness. Such risky behaviour saw my rank go backwards in a week when gains were left wanting with Fogarty letting me down again.

Round 5 – 1009 points (4,364 total), Rank 3,888, $64k ITB

Much like the week just gone, round 5 saw huge scores everywhere and those not scoring in the 4 digits going backwards. I again used 2 trades with the aim of picking up two of the popular trade-in targets in Zac Hosking ($541k) and Connelly Lemeulu ($466k). Hosking appeared a must, having missed out on Bryce Cartwright and Michael Chee Kam I was not prepared to miss another cash train. The dilemma came in who to sell for him, in the end it was Jamal Fogarty ($646k, $77k loss) who had to go. Depleting my already-weak HLF depth wasn’t ideal, but he was my only player that didn’t fit into the “Blue Chip Gun” or “Cashie/Mid-Ranger with money to make” so had to go. With cash freed up, it was time to part ways with Braydon Trindall ($392k, $142k gain) as I brought in Lemeulu to strengthen both my CTR and round 13/14 options. With Murray going massive and Isaiya Katoa scraping a 32, I gained almost 2k ranks with my first 1k+ score of the year.

Round 6 - 864 points (5,228 total), Rank 5,530, $6k ITB

Having escaped with Isaiya Katoa putting up a passable score in round 5, I didn’t want to risk it again so set about replacing Jamal Fogarty. With Nicho Hynes on a bye and having a prohibitive price, I set about acquiring Nathan Cleary. I did expect “The Chin” to start slowly and drop a little cash, but I did not expect him to drop a 37 in round 2 and be available for $879k heading into Round 6! Coming off scores of 78 and 80, I did not expect him to stay under $900k for long. With only $64k ITB coming into this round, sacrifices had to be made to bring him in. In the end, I opted to sacrifice the Storm pair of Eliesa Katoa ($614k, $166k) and Trent Loiero ($505k, $116k ITB), leaving unrealised gains on the table. Ideally I would’ve kept the pair, but both were slowing down on their gains and it is impossible to cash out every player at their peak price. Dealing the pair meant I needed someone to bring in for $304k or less, and I elected for Hame Sele ($298k) who should be okay depth as my players approach byes. Despite bringing in Cleary, I went backwards as I did not put the C on him.

Round 7 – 776 points (6,004 total), Rank 5,604, $41k ITB

With my season not heading in a great trajectory, I knew that I needed to take some risks. As a result, I decided to step off a benched J’Maine Hopgood ($717k, $264k gain) round 1 in order to bolster my HOK ranks with Jeremy Marshall-King. JMK was looking like he would play 80 every week and at $689k still had some value in him. With the Storm’s upcoming bye in round 9 on the horizon, I also moved off Will Warbrick and brought in Phoenix Crossland who appeared to be in for a large minute role at hooker due to the injury to Jayden Brailey. With below-par scores from the likes of Tapine and Trbojevic, I continued to tumble down the ranks.

Round 8 – 801 points (6,805 total), Rank 7,240, $57k ITB

What happens when risks don’t pay off? You double down! Or at least that is what I did again in round 8. Jack de Belin ($614k) was shaping up as a potential gun purchase, however I held off buying him this week and as a result never got him. I bought into the Roosters narrative, scooping up James Tedesco ($579k) and the new 6 in Joseph Manu ($607k). Like I had down with a pair of EDG a fortnight ago, I went early on moving Jacob Preston ($608k, $230k gain) which was a decision that aged like milk. Another big risk on hoping Jacob Host ($377k ITB) could deliver the goods on the left edge didn’t pay off, as he scored 5 as I brought him in for Kotoni Staggs ($524k, $5k loss). The slide continues.

Round 9 – 891 points (7,696 total), Rank 5,846, $122k ITB

To quote “like a dog going back to its vomit” I brought back Brandon Smith ($518k) and also brought back early failure Scott Drinkwater ($504k). By bringing back the Cowboys fullback, I essentially did the inverse of the move by selling a broken Tom Trbojevic ($551k, $99k loss) whilst was a hard pill to swallow, it was the correct move. With Paul Alamoti ($415k, $185k) and Shawn Blore ($373k, $123k) hitting peak price, I moved them on and brought in Kaeo Weekes ($252k) with an eye towards round 13. Those moves saw me arrest four straight red arrows, making some gains along the way.

Round 10 – 1033 points (8,729 total), Rank 3,032, $174k ITB

Magic Round turned out to be a pivotal round in the context of my season, as I not only scored well but cleaned up some errors and avoided further squad value leakage. With Jahream Bula ($290k) looming as a solid WFB option, I brought him in for Phoenix Crossland ($441k, $73k) who hadn’t hit the heights I wanted and would be an oversubscription in my r13 HLFs. That move freed up enough cash to remove Jacob Host ($372k, $5k loss) and bring in Corey Horsburgh ($623k) who had passed the eye test as a potential season-long keeper. I then also made a mid-round move in dealing my round 1 captain Cameron Murray ($818k, $86k loss) as the high BE could see him lose ever more cash before I planned to move him in round 13. I replaced him with Dylan Brown ($666k) who was coming into form; which turned out to be a masterstroke as Brown scored 75 and gained $46k whilst Murray scored 29 and lost another $60k – a $106k turnaround in one round. A 1k+ score saw my rank almost half to just outside the top 3k.

After 10 rounds, I’m sitting outside the top 3k with a squad value at least $4-500k behind the average top 1k team and plenty of work to do. If that doesn't deter you from going POD-heavy in 2024, I'm not sure what will. Be sure to check out part two, where I go through my leadup to the major bye rounds and my transition towards my final team in round 20.


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