And welcome back 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 Two, I cover rounds 11 to 20 going through my preparation leading into the major bye rounds and my strategy as I move towards my final build for the run home. In these rounds, you’ll see that the patience I had on making big moves lead to opportunities to leapfrog overall coaches in front of me.
Round 11 - 842 points (9,571 total), Rank 5,363, $105k ITB
Naturally after burning 3 trades in round 10, I wanted to be a bit more conservative and use a small number of trades this week. With the Warriors on the bye, I took the opportunity to move on Jackson Ford ($537k, $197k gain) who had performed his role as a cashie aptly. With just using one trade, I decided to opt for Jaydn Su’A ($606k) who had posted three 50s in a row. Not only that but the Dragons had excellent upcoming availability, with no byes until round 16. Unfortunately, I struggled this round without my three Dolphins and lost most of my progress from round 10.
Round 12 – 979 points (10,550 total), Rank 4,076, $39k ITB
With the major bye round just one week away, I wanted to go conservative on trades again as I planned to spend up in round 13 and there was some ambiguity about the origin sides. I’d thought I’d seen enough of James Tedesco ($550k) and was planning to move him on to Jack Bird ($654k) and bolster my CTRs. However, Bird was cut in the final teams and I reversed that trade. With a CTR needed for round 13, I kept on the Dragons menu and brought in Zac Lomax ($501k) who was back on the right and a decent scorer in the past. I sold Isaiya Katoa ($435k, $205k gain) as I had an oversubscription issue in the HLFs for round 13 and Katoa has just about peaked. The culling of Bird was a stroke of luck, as Tedesco scored 84 and Lomax posted a solid 43. Rank-wise, some nice progress made before the first major bye round.
Round 13 - 726 points (11,276 total), Rank 2,158, $130k ITB
There was absolute chaos on origin selection and TLT front, with many solid round 13 options sidelined which forced two of my trades. With his demotion, I sold Lachlan Miller ($553k, $127k gain) for his replacement Kalyn Ponga ($420k) which was a common trade in the game. Succumbing to injury, I was forced to sell Jaydn Su’A ($660k, $54k gain) and decided to take a punt on Corey Harawira-Naera ($495k) who has a high ceiling. Another injury saw me trade out Brandon Smith ($564k, $46k gain) and brought back J’Maine Hopgood ($771k) who I foresaw as been a must-have in round 16 due to the dearth of good MID options. I almost managed to halve my rank with a full 13, despite my captain SJ scoring just 39.
Round 14 - 793 points (12,069 total), Rank 2,228, $151k ITB
My trades in round 14 had an eye towards round 16 which was shaping up as one of the trickiest bye rounds. After suffering a seizure against the Rabbitohs, I traded out Corey Harawira-Naera ($483k, $12k loss) for Eliesa Katoa who would in theory play every round before round 19. Facing a monster BE, I decided to cut my losses on Reed Mahoney ($623k, $89k loss) and bring in Jake Turpin ($337k) who was replacing the injured Cheese at 9. Having done a job, I moved on Hame Sele ($420k, $122k gain) for James Fisher-Harris ($584k) to secure another round 16 MID. To boost my round 14 numbers, I cut short the Kaeo Weekes ($262k, $10k gain) experiment and brought in Karl Oloapu ($293k). I was in for a massive rank climb until Nathan Cleary pulled his hamstring in the first 20 minutes, spewing!
Round 15 - 896 points (12,965 total), Rank 3,783, $151k ITB
The build-up to round 15 was migraine-inducing, with Nathan Cleary joined on the sidelines by Dylan Brown who was stood down by the NRL. Naturally, the best replacements for these would be Nicho Hynes and/or Mitchell Moses. However, there was a lot of speculation as to who would replace Cleary in the Sky Blue 7, so I decided to wait it out. In the short term it hurt having $1.8m in HLFs sitting on the bench as my rank slid around 1,500 spots.
Round 16 – 777 points (13,742 total), Rank 2,767, $121k ITB
The short-term pain in round 15 turned out to be worth it, as Mitchell Moses was selected for origin and would likely miss three of the next four rounds. With Nicho Hynes ($963k) available, he was an easy replacement for Nathan Cleary ($993k, $114k gain) with only one bye remaining. The cursed EDG slot took another victim as an eye injury saw the exit of Eliesa Katoa ($542k, $11k loss) and I replaced him with Olakau’atu. As I alluded to in the pre-season, Olakau’atu is a cyclical player that is a tidy pickup when in the low 600s. He also worked better for my side than the likes of John Bateman, Isaiah Papali’i and Briton Nikora who had a bye in round 17. My third trade for the round saw me part with Dylan Brown ($785k, $119k gain) and bring in Ryan Matterson ($756k) as my third MID for the round. Matterson was an overpay, but as were all the other MID options that also played round 17. With Nicho in the team, I gained just over 1k ranks in the second major bye round.
Round 17 - 927 points (14,699 total), Rank 2,375, $100k ITB
Having planned carefully around my red dots for round 17, I didn’t have too much to do besides move on Jeremy Marshall-King ($669k, $20k loss). With his AC shoulder joint issue not looking promising, I needed to recycle my HOK options. With the position looking very weak in depth, I decided to go early on Harry Grant ($758k) as I knew he was a player I wanted in my final build. With JMK gone I needed a HOK for round 19 and saw Brendan Hands ($308k) as a decent option with some job security to bring in for Karl Oloapu ($376k, $83k gain). With many coaches playing short, I was able to gain almost 400 ranks.
Round 18 – 1,061 points (15,730 total), Rank 1,876, $228k ITB
Despite having three Eels on the byes, I was comfortable with my squad and decided to use just one trade. Now out of favour, I moved on Zac Hosking ($607k, $66k gain) later than I should have, given he peaked at $715k. Feeling a little short of cash for my final build, I took a gamble on bringing back Shawn Blore ($479k) who had a good role which could see him stack on some quick cash. With just 17 green dots available, I somehow landed my best score to date and moved up nearly 500 ranks.
Round 19 – 766 points (16,496 total), Rank 1,262, $73k ITB
Having got most of my round 19 planning done early, I had the luxury of only needing two trades to form a full 13 as I lacked a MID or EDG plus a WFB. Given decent MIDs would be a dime-a-dozen in round 20, I opted to take Tohu Harris ($699k) as he was a decent price and hand a manageable final bye in round 22. I traded out Jake Turpin ($544k, $207k gain) as his concussion-impacted 17 in round 18 had halted his price rises. With no decent cheap WFBs available, I played with 12 and behind Zac Lomax’s 91 was able to gain another 600 ranks.
Round 20 - 950 points (17,446 total), Rank 1,292, $43k ITB
The game got a lot more interesting as coaches were handed eight “bonus” trades to form their final side. With nine including these, I opted to make a pair of trades. Sidelined this week with an ankle injury and with a bye in round 25, I decided to sell Payne Haas ($863k, $54k gain). With the Tohu purchase last week, I still had sufficient MID coverage so was able to pick up the origin halves pairing of Daly Cherry-Evans ($714k) and Cameron Munster ($718k). Even though he ended up scoring 69, I had no regrets in selling Jahream Bula ($539k, $249k gain) as he wasn’t in my final team plans. With many coaches burning three or four trades this week, I was happy to only lose 30 ranks.
I entered the major bye rounds with a rank of 4,076 and exited them with a rank 1,292 – progress that I am quite happy with. After the eight trades were unlocked, I enter the final seven rounds with seven trades left which gives me enough ammo to chase the Chin and react to the inevitable chaos that we will see. Be sure to catch part three where I go through the final seven rounds and reflect on the lessons learned in 2023.