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The Mercato - Draft Special (Part Three)

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. In Part Three of the three-part #MiniMercatoSeries on NRL Fantasy draft, we go through D-Day and beyond. If you missed Part One where I went through why we love draft and how to be a good commissioner, you can read that here. If you missed Part Two where I went through the build-up to draft day, you can read that here.


Perhaps the most exciting part of the pre-season is D-Day, Draft Day! Hopefully your commissioner has read Part One and has arranged a draft time that enables everyone to participate live from Thursday 1 February 2024. For many leagues, the draft day is punched into the calendar every year and is one of the main catchups for the entire group. Plus, nothing beats copping pelters as you step up to the lectern and make your pick under pressure. Another fun element of draft is the lottery to determine who picks where, which takes us to our next topic.

The Draft Order

Hopefully your commissioner isn’t a jokester and doesn’t veer away from the snake draft, nor enables captains. For me, the linear order should only be in play in a dynasty-style league where the wooden spooners gets the boost to improve in the next season. Assuming your league holds firm with snake draft, lottery is the fairest method of deciding who goes where. So where should be praying the balls land when it comes to your place in the order?

For me, I prefer to pick in the first two or last two of an 8-team draft, or first three or last three of a 10-team draft. This enables you to effectively “pair” your picks. For example, if you pick 7th in an 8-team draft, you’ll also get the 10th pick meaning that you have just two players coming off the board between your picks. This allows you a fair bit of certainty that you’ll be able to get your targets into the positions you would like. Granted, you will have to wait 13 picks until your third-round pick (23rd) by which point a further 12 players will be off the board so it’s not all rose tinted.

But for me, I would much rather this equation than being 4th in the order and always having a minimum of 6 players coming off the board between my picks (4th, 13th, 20th, 29th, 36th etc). Often in a draft, expectation theory (more on that later) comes into play around a certain position and could see a large cluster of players of a certain positional get selected in a row. If you’re always picking in the middle of the rounds, there’s a good chance you miss out on those good options. At least when picking at either end, you’ve got a coin flip that you will be able to take at least one.

Of course, having a prime position at either end of the draft order is ideal. However, it does not guarantee success as having a good season is shaped by drafting well.

How to draft

The strategy for drafting in the early rounds is likely going to be shaped by three things:

  • Where your first pick is

  • Who gets picked in the first round

  • Positional priorities and its interaction with expectancy theory

Your First Pick

In most instances, you’re going to want to take the best player that’s available with your first pick. This certainly applies with the first two picks, where you take Nathan Cleary or Nicho Hynes. If they somehow are sitting on the board after the first two picks, gobble them up and give absolute pelters to whoever swerved them.

From pick three onwards, it opens up and there’s not necessarily any “wrong” picks provided you’re taking one of Harry Grant or an elite MID, EDG, HLF or WFB. Assuming your draft has the major byes (13, 16, 19) turned off, I would anticipate that the trio of Payne Haas, Isaah Yeo and Harry Grant would be next off the board. This is due to the fact these players have two of their byes in the major bye rounds so could potentially all bar one match until the final. Speaking of final, you probably need to be aware of Haas’ bye in round 24 and where that fits into your finals equation. Harry Grant may have only had the 14th best average last season, but there is potentially going to be a large drop-off in the hooker position should Peter Mamouzelos nab some minutes off Damien Cook later in the season. And given you have to play one (so no chance to combine like in other positions), this could be a real tiebreaker come crunch time.

When it comes to sixth pick onwards, I would continue to apply the rule for picks three to five. If any of those players are still on the board, I would gobble them up. Otherwise, you do have the ability to get a little bit more creative as there will only be a small distance between your first and second pick (especially in 8-team). By creative, I would be tempted to look at going a little early on an elite WFB (think Kalyn Ponga, Latrell Mitchell, Scott Drinkwater) to activate some expectancy theory. Personally, I would play the percentages and look to take a gun HLF (Daly Cherry-Evans, Shaun Johnson, Mitchell Moses) and then react to what is left on the board when it is time to take your second pick. There’s nothing wrong with taking a gun MID (J’Maine Hopgood, Jack de Belin, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Patrick Carrigan, Cameron Murray) or gun EDG like David Fifita, but as we discovered in Part Two there is far more depth in these positions and likely plenty of the gun options still available in rounds two and three.

Your Second Pick and Beyond

With your first pick in the bag, it’s time to enter the battlezone and be prepared to react to the chaos that will ensue. Who to pick will depend a lot on who already has been picked before you’re on the clock. Ideally, you would like to pick a player from a position different than you picked in round 1. This is why I prefer to avoid EDG and MIDs with my first pick, as there will be a plethora (thanks Andy) of options to pick in round two or three from these positions. Whilst I would probably avoid picking a second WFB or second HLF, one should be open to the idea if you think it will put the cat amongst the pigeons and set off the effects of expectancy theory.

Expectancy Theory

Expectancy Theory was first proposed by the Canadian Psychologist Victor Vroom. The theory is centred around the belief that an individual will be motivated to act in a certain way because they believe a certain outcome will happen. The theory is most applicable to business management, as the choice of behaviour will lead to a certain level of performance that will in turn lead to a desired outcome. For example, a person is more likely to work harder in their job if they think they will be given a reward for working harder (such as a salary increase, promotion or bonus).

Readers at this point are probably asking why I’m talking about a business management theory that was published by a bloke with an onomatopoeic name. And that would be a fair question. The reason expectancy theory is relevant is because some of the concepts apply to our everyday life, as well as events where there is a transaction involved. Enter NRL Fantasy Draft and expectancy theory.

As we’ve spoken already in this #MiniMercatoSeries, every player is unique. This means that there will be positional scarcity, which we explored in-depth in Part Two. Expectancy Theory comes into play when the positional scarcity begins to influence the draft selections of coaches. If coaches think that players from a certain position will soon no longer be available, they will act in a manner that ensure that eventuates. That is, they will select these players with their draft picks to ensure they get at least one of them “before they go”. As a result, the players in that position will all get selected.

There are two positions that are most likely to be impacted by expectancy theory: Hooker (HOK) and Winger-Fullback (WFB). As we discussed in Part Two, it’s likely only Harry Grant and (potentially) Damien Cook will be selected in the first three rounds. Afterwards, the next HOKs by default draft order are Reece Robson (#50), Jeremy Marshall-King (#56), Tanah Boyd (#69) and Blayke Brailey (#72). These players will likely be selected before their default ranks, given a large portion of the top 75 come from MID, EDG and HLF.

But what will likely happen is once the first of this batch is picked, the other coaches will be alert to the fact that they will need a HOK (if they don’t already have them) and will be concerned that they may “miss out”. As a result, they will likely use their next pick on a HOK. This can work to your advantage if you already have a HOK, as you can elect to pick another one (a DPP option like Tanah Boyd or Brandon Smith) as great trade collateral or focus on other areas of need.

The same situation could occur at WFB but is more likely to occur once coaches begin collecting a second decent WFB. It’s important to note that this situation could occur in another position, and whether you already have players in that position will determine whether you may gain an advantage. It all comes down to the strategies of the other coaches in your league; so perhaps don’t enrol in a MBA just yet.


As I referred to in Part Two, you want to avoid “clustering” with your selections. By “clustering”, I am referring to avoiding selecting players that will have the same byes as other players in your team. Especially in the same position, as they may cause you to play short one week unless you dip into the Restricted Free Agent (RFA)/Free Agent (FA) pools. If your league has major bye rounds turned off, “clustering” will occur with players from the same team except in the minor bye rounds:

  • Round 14: Dolphins, Raiders and Roosters

  • Round 17: Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Titans

  • Round 20: Dragons, Eels, Sharks

Ideally during the draft, you want to keep an eye on your clustering exposure with your picks (especially early rounds) and try minimise it where you can. At the end of the day, you can make adjustments during the season with trades and utilising the Free Agent pool.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA) and Free Agents (FA)

Whilst the initial draft can set you up for success, the acquisitions made from the RFA and FA pool are what will make or break your season. As the name suggests, RFAs have restrictions about when you can acquire them. For an RFA, you need to place a bid to acquire them, with the player going to the team with the highest priority. Depending on your league settings, the priority order will be set by:

  • Reverse Ladder position (last to first)

  • Last Pick to Bottom (that is, the last person to make a RFA acquisition will go to the bottom of the order)

As I spoke about in Part One, Last Pick to Bottom is the option that rewards strategic use of the RFA and punishes those that regularly head to the RFAs for a sugar hit. If your league uses Last Pick to Bottom, not only does your commissioner belong on your Christmas card list but it means that you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this player fill a need in my squad?

  • Does this player turn one of my other players into good trade bait?

  • Will another coach bid for them, meaning I can’t acquire them as a Free Agent?

If the answer to most of these questions is a resounding "yes", make that bid.

In terms of when RFAs are actioned, we refer to Section 7.4 of the draft guidelines:

“The RFA process is run every day (except during lock-out) at 12 noon (AEDT/AEST) with only players whose RFA has expired on that day eligible for selection
If the end-of-round lockout processing is delayed and not finalized until after 15:00 AEDT/AEST, all RFA times will move forward 24-hours (i.e. if your league has a 24-hour hold back, RFA/waiver processing would normally complete at 15:00 on Tuesday if the round lockout lift happens as expected at approx. 11am on Monday. If that lockout processing is delayed until after noon on Monday, then the RFA/waiver processing for your league will move until Wednesday at noon.)”

In short, your RFAs will usually be actioned on a Tuesday if your league settings are “1 day”, or Wednesday if “2 days”.

One detail to note when it comes to RFAs is players who have the bye the week before will automatically be Free Agents once lockout lifts. So if you’re quick enough to open the app after lockout lift, you can be a Corby and “snake” a player for free and retain your spot in the RFA priority order.

But speaking of snakes, that brings us to the end of this #MiniMercatoSeries on NRL Fantasy Draft. Be sure to check out part one, where I go through why we love draft, and part two, where I go through building up to and preparing for draft day.

The draft content will continue on Talking League, as Pat and I will go through all things draft in our Draft Special podcast. Plus of course, we’ll be holding the second edition of our famous Talking League Live draft! Held in February, the Talking League draft will be available to watch live on Facebook and on-demand in podcast format. Enjoy the content, and happy drafting!



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