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The Mercato - Draft Dialogue

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. With the Talking League Live Draft in the books, this edition will look back at my strategy before and during the Draft.

We’ll continue to provide draft content throughout the season, including updates about the Draft league itself. If you haven’t yet read my #MiniMercatoSeries on draft strategy, you can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here. The draft special I recorded with Pat is also available on our podcast feed, which covers a lot of the concepts covered in the articles in an audible format.

Thursday Night was the night that worked for all 10 attendees, so we locked it in despite it being before the first games of the NRL Preseason Challenge, All-Stars and World Club Challenge. With less data and form to rely on, there was bound to be some surprises.

The Order

By a random generator, the draft order was decided:

  1. Sean

  2. Gus

  3. Rich

  4. Riley

  5. Brenton

  6. Andy

  7. Me

  8. Shooter

  9. Jake

  10. Pat

As you could imagine, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about being 7th as I wasn’t on either perimeter (1st and 2nd, 9th and 10th). However, it could be worse as I could’ve been in the washing machine (5th and 6th), so I was looking forward to the challenge.

The Strategy

Going into the draft, I had the following principles guiding my strategy:

  • In the first four picks, take the best talent on the board with at least two of my picks.

  • In the first five picks, take at least two HLFs and one WFB.

  • In the first six picks, take at least one HOK.

  • Where possible, delay picking EDGs and CTRs until the back half of the draft.

  • Take at least four DPPs (including potential DPPs).

Of course, strategy is great in theory, but every draft is unique. You must react to what the other coaches have done and what they are likely to do next to not leave yourself short in any position. Given you can’t trade picks to re-arrange the order, you need to prepare to go early on some players and hope that they are offset by the players that you get as “bargains”.

Prior to the draft, I set my Pre Draft List (PDL) to cluster players in each position together so that I could have awareness about what positions were thinning out and required more immediate action than others. This would also highlight players that could be potential bargains, as they slipped below where I projected them to be picked.

The First Pick

With the seventh pick in the first round, it meant that a lot of the elite players would be off the board. On my draft board, I had the following players in order:

  1. Nathan Cleary

  2. Nicho Hynes

  3. Isaah Yeo

  4. Harry Grant

  5. Payne Haas

  6. Mitchell Moses

My plan for my first-round pick was as follows:

  • If one of the above six players was still on the board, pick them and look to grab a WFB or HLF in the second round.

  • If all six players were gone, take Kalyn Ponga as he would not still be on the board when I picked next at 14th.

As it turned out, Isaah Yeo was left to slide all the way to me at pick seven and I did not hesitate to take him. I rated him third on my draft board above Haas because he didn’t have a late bye and above Grant due to being a more consistent scorer. With a MID on the roster, I could afford to be a bit laxer in my pursuit of two more starting MIDs. Now to pray that Dylan Brown would still be on the board when I’m back on the clock at pick #14.

Second and Third Picks

Unfortunately, Dylan Brown was not on the board as Shooter took him with the pick just before me. Ironically, he ended up with the two players I was hoping to get pre-draft in Ponga and Brown. Having decided to not take Ponga when the opportunity rose in the first round, I locked down my elite WFB by taking Latrell Mitchell. Whilst availability has been lacking in a Souths jersey, Mitchell is a ceiling player that won’t have any byes or origin commitments past round 19. With a WFB dialled in, it was time to take a HLF or the best available player when I next picked at #27.

In between my picks, the likes of Cameron Munster, Adam Reynolds and Jamal Fogarty were selected which thinned out the list of suitable HLFs that were appropriate to take with my pick. When it came around to my turn, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui was somehow still on the board. With an average draft position of 11th, it was a no brainer to take the Titans skipper.

Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Picks

With no HLFs in my squad, it was time to start targeting them before the well dried up. After picking Tino, I had my eyes locked in on Jahrome Hughes and was hoping he would not come off the board. When it came to my pick, he was still there. But what happened in between picks was more HOKs went off the board, as all of Harry Grant, Damien Cook, Reece Robson, Tanah Boyd and Jeremy Marshall-King were no longer available. As a result, I wanted to fend off expectancy theory and went early on Brandon Smith. In hindsight, I should’ve stuck to the original plan of Hughes but there was no certainty that Cheese would be on the board in another 13 picks. It also meant I could leave the selection of a second HOK until later in the draft.

With no HLFs in my team after 4 rounds, I had to pray that I could select some of the remaining viable starting options with my next two picks. Thankfully, the other coaches were looking to take name brand CTRs as well as DPP MID/EDGs. With enough of these selections, I was able to snare Matt Burton and Sean O’Sullivan. Neither of these two are tip top HLF options, but they have enough about them to average 45+ without having career seasons. With my starting HLFs sewn up, I had quite a bit of freedom with my next set of picks.

Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth Picks

Having scraped together a HLFs pairing, I wanted to look to grab a second WFB as well as at least one strong EDG in the next four picks. Having avoided a severe HLF crisis, I was quite relaxed and decided to start playing trivia with my fellow coaches when picking to try throw them off their games.

With some coaches yet to pick up a HOK, I thought I’d try apply the blowtorch by taking a second in the form of Api Koroisau. With enough origin players in the squad, it was time to find some players that might actually be available for at least one of the major bye rounds. I had my eye on Englishman John Batemen, but Shooter again made a great selection and took him just before me. With Eliesa Katoa on the board, I took him as a consolation prize. Up next, I was able to capitalise on the fading of Tigers players and took Jahream Bula as my second WFB. Given I had two WFBs, I felt comfortable taking a second EDG and brought in Shaun Lane.

Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Picks

Having watched all the brand name CTRs disappear off the board and with comfort in most of my key starting positions, I decided to target some CTR options. In these five picks, I added CTRs in the form of Sebastian Kris, Phillip Sami and future DPP Jack Wighton. I also collected Jai Arrow during this time, who looked like a solid DPP option when I was on the clock in the 12th round. Optimistic that he would get the fullback jersey, I got in Connor Tracey in the 14th round.

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Picks

Having covered off most of my priorities, I decided to take another smokie in Zac Hosking in round 16. Whilst he probably won’t play 80 minutes, Hosking has shown in previous performances that he has a massive ceiling and could jackpot if given a decent role. With my EDG coverage, I can always send him back to the RFAs if his prospects diminish. Given a lot of my backs will be unavailable for at least one of the first three rounds, I grabbed Mosese Suli as an option that I don’t have hold in the long-term.

The Roster

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my roster. I’m not overly weak at HOK or WFB, and relatively competitive elsewhere. My only real complaint is I don’t have one better HLF, but that’s not too bad given some of the HLFs combinations that other coaches have. With 5 DPPs, I can treat Zac Hosking’s slot as a landing spot for any decent FAs or RFAs that crop up early without compromising on versatility. With the talent in my squad, I back myself to finish inside the top 4 if I can navigate the first few rounds without taking too many Ls.

All the squads can be viewed here, so be sure to leave your opinion on who drafted best in the comments. We’ll keep you updated throughout the season on who is leading the charge in the draft league, as well as all the key movements in the Free Agency and trade space. If you have any draft-related questions, be sure to hit us up in the DMs on Instagram or Facebook.

In the next edition of The Mercato, I will launch The Portfolio II, my second iteration of revealing my round 1 team and thoughts towards strategy in the early rounds. In the meantime, you can catch me each Monday with Brenton on The Fantasy Game Plan, as we go through all the key talking points from the trials and emerging issues facing NRL Fantasy coaches.



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