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The Mercato - Draft Special (Part Two)

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. In Part Two of the three-part #MiniMercatoSeries on NRL Fantasy draft, we go through building up to draft day. 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.

Getting your order ready

Once you have entered a draft league, you will be able to arrange your Pre-Draft List (PDL), which looks like the screenshot below when on a PC/tablet.

The PDL is by sorted by default in:

  • player price order (largest to smallest) then

  • player average (largest to smallest) then

  • player ID (viewable in the URL of the player’s profile)

Given the player prices are mostly based on the Magic Number ($13.75k) times their 2023 average, the default order is not going to be the order that you want to select in. Whilst there is no need to alter the PDL before a draft, taking some time to re-arrange it to your preferences could help you snap a “bargain” or avoid an “overpay”. Once live drafts become available from Thursday 1 February 2024, the ADP (Average Draft Position) will begin to populate. The ADP provides a good reference tool for draft players to understand the priority of each player across the Draft playing population, which you could aid your strategy around your picks.

In terms of how deep you would like to re-arrange your ADP, I would use the total number of draft picks + 20 (to factor in positional contingencies) as a guide. For example, if my draft had:

  • 8 coaches and 17 player slots, I would re-arrange my first 156

  • 10 coaches and 17 player slots, I would re-arrange my first 190

  • 6 coaches and 25 player slots, I would re-arrange my first 170

In terms of re-arranging your ADP, you want to consider the following factors:

  • A player’s projected average (are they a sleeper?)

  • Positional scarcity of elite/gun options

  • Dual Position Players (DPPs)

  • Round of final bye

The order of which you prioritise these factors will depend upon the player in question, which we explore below.


Per The Athletic, this is how the term “Sleeper” was explained to boom 2018 NFL Fantasy Draft option Mike Williams:

“A “sleeper” was apparently an under-the-radar player who some fantasy owners expected to outperform his slot late in the draft.”

In the context of NRL Fantasy, we are looking at those options that may appear lower in the draft board that their projected average suggests. Now of course the term suggests that the player is “slept on”, but options like Josh Curran, Angus Crichton, Josh Schuster, Joey Lussick are well-known to classic players as options that will make great value in classic format.

For players that you expect to perform above the reasonable level (45+ for any MID/EDG/HLF, 40+ for HOK/CTR/WFB), you probably want to move them up the PDL towards where comparable players are listed. For example, if you thought Angus Crichton was going to average near 50, you would probably want to move him from #191 to somewhere near Bryce Cartwright (#46, average 48.5) and Keaon Koloamatangi (#48, average 48.1). Now given the uncertainty of the back row slots at the Roosters, you may elect to sit him 5-10 spots behind these comparable players. By re-arranging the order for these types of players, you may have a few bargains fall into your lap in later rounds.

Positional Scarcity

As we discussed in Part One, every player in unique which will lead to different levels of positional scarcity in a draft competition. Analysis of the 502 players who recorded at least one score in 2023 has been conducted, with the following conclusions reached based on 2023 positions.

Hooker (HOK)

HOK is a very shallow position, as there were just:

  • 19 players above 35

  • 13 players above 40

  • 6 players above 45

  • 2 players (Harry Grant and Damien Cook) above 50

Given you only need to play one, you would like at least one decent option. In a 10 team league, it means that there is probably less than 2 serviceable HOK options per side. Of course, there are 17 teams in the league which means we should see some more options open up (potentially Brailey from injury, Levi could get named at HOK) albeit they may not be slam dunks.

It seems pretty clear that unless you can get Harry Grant in round 1, there’s probably no rush to get a HOK in the early rounds. In may be worth going early on a DPP option like a Tanah Boyd (HLF/HOK) or Brandon Smith (HOK/MID) to enable yourself the opportunity to take a risk on a lesser-regarded HOK in the later rounds.


Middle Forward (MID)

In the deepest position in the game, there were:

  • 64 players above 35

  • 42 players above 40

  • 25 players above 45

  • 14 players above 50

Given you need to play three every week, you probably want to have two very good MID players that are supported by a decent one and then a passable option (ideally DPP) on the bench. In a 10-team league, there’s 4 players averaging 40+ per team. This means that there will be some reasonable options in the late round should others have exhausted their options. With this level of depth, it’s unlikely that MID players will make for good trade bait.


Edge Forward (EDG)

Not quite as deep as the MID position, there were:

  • 53 players above 35

  • 36 players above 40

  • 22 players above 45

  • 10 players above 50

Given you only need to play two every week, you probably would like one player capable of averaging 50+ and then moving onto other priorities. In a 10-team league, there is enough for 2 players averaging 45+ in each side. Unless Fifita falls in your lap, there’s not much use going early on your first EDG. Much like the MID, there will be some reasonable options available in the late rounds. As you only need two for starting positions, it’s likely that only 50+ options will yield great trade outcomes.


Halves (HLF)

Not quite as deep as the EDG position, there were:

  • 37 players above 35

  • 24 players above 40

  • 17 players above 45

  • 10 players above 50

Given you only need to play two every week, you probably want at least one 50+ player supported by another 45+ player. In a 10-team league, there is enough for 2 players averaging 45+ in each side. Given some of the top options have 55+ potential and the thinner low-end depth, you probably want to take two picks inside the first four rounds. Whilst there may be some decent options in the later rounds, you would only be wanting to be on the lookout for your backup.

Centres (CTR)

Often regarded as the weakest position in NRL Fantasy, there were:

  • 37 players above 35

  • 21 players above 40

  • 9 players above 45

  • 1 player above 50

Given you only need to play two every week, you probably want at least one 40+ players supported by a 35+ and a DPP backup. In a 10-team league, there is enough for 2 players averaging 40 in each side. Given the peloton of CTRs hovers around 35+ and 40+, I wouldn’t be rushing out to grab my CTRs.

Winger/Fullbacks (WFB)

Usually regarded as being deeper than CTR, there were:

  • 45 players above 35

  • 26 players above 40

  • 16 players above 45

  • 5 players above 50

Given you need to play three every week, you probably want at least two 40+ players supported by a smokey in the 35+ category. In a 10-team league, there is enough for 2 players averaging 40 in each side. However with the need for three in your team, you may need to be more aggressive. I have no issue taking an elite WFB very early given their scarcity. Ideally, you want two decent options locked away before the WFB scramble starts in your draft. All going well, you may be able to pickup a handy DPP like Sebatian Kris (CTR/WFB), Sean Russell (WFB/CTR) or Jessie Arthars (CTR/WFB) with one of your last two picks.

Of course, 2024 will be a different season to 2023 and these numbers will vary. However, they give you a decent guide of what to expect and how you may plan to action your early picks. Which after all, are the most important picks as they can open up (or close) your flexibility to pick up bargains in the later rounds.


Dual Position Players (DPPs)

DPPs can be very useful in draft, especially when we have at least one team on a bye every single round. Whilst there’s no issue with taking gun DPP like J’Maine Hopgood (MID/EDG), Nat Butcher (MID/EDG) or Joseph Manu (CTR/WFB), the real value lies on your bench. Given there are six positions but just four bench slots, DPPs are essential for positional coverage (unless you love dipping into the RFA bin every week). Once you go past halfway in your draft, you want to add more priority towards DPPs to ensure you look into acquiring at least two DPPs for your bench.


There’s a couple of reasons why byes are worth considering when it comes to arranging your PDL.

The first one relates to the finals. The following teams are in the danger zone (depending on when your finals start and finish):

  • Sea Eagles (Round 22)

  • Roosters (Round 23)

  • Broncos (Round 24)

  • Cowboys (Round 25)

  • Tigers (Round 26)

  • Warriors (Round 27)

Of course, you need to qualify for the finals so there is no point completely disregarding players that will have a bye during your finals series. However, it can be a useful tiebreaker when it comes to comparing two similar players (such as Briton Nikora and Isaiah Papali’i.

The other point to consider is whether your league has the major bye rounds (13, 16 or 19) turned on or off. If byes are turned “off”, it means that there will be matches in the major bye rounds, placing more emphasis on the minor bye rounds when the following teams are unavailable:

  • Round 14: Dolphins, Raiders and Roosters

  • Round 17: Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Titans

  • Round 20: Dragons, Eels, Sharks

Whilst it probably doesn’t affect your draft order that much in terms of these teams, it is worth avoiding “clustering” (more in Part Three) with these teams. It also means that origin players become more viable, as they won’t be recording costly DNPs during the major bye rounds. Much like the later bye teams, I would only treat origin status as a tiebreaker as opposed to a deal-breaker in your PDL.

And that wraps up Part Two of this three-part Draft #MercatoMiniSeries. Be sure to check out part one, where I go through why we love draft and being a good commissioner, and part three where I go through how to navigate draft day and beyond.

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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