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The Mercato - Get to the (Vegetable) Chopper!

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series from Talking League. In this edition, we walk into the kitchen and see that there’s some leeks under the sink. Get the vegetable chopper sharpened and had straight to the cutting board!

The leaks of course, come from the Footy Statistics website created by Justin. He’s been incredibly generous in keeping the website free for all users, and you can send a donation (if you wish) as thanks to show your appreciation for his work using the link on the website. With the information contained on the website, we can see the 2024 prices for most prices are available. In this piece, I note my initial reactions to the prices.

Some assumptions:

  • The Magic Number is $13.75k for most players

  • The highest starting price in 2024 is $1m (Nicho Hynes and Nathan Cleary)

  • The lowest starting price in 2024 is $250k

  • Squad sizes stay the same (subject to change)

  • The salary cap will be $10.4m (subject to change)

The Top Guns

As mentioned above, Nicho Hynes and Nathan Cleary will both start at $1m. If they were priced per the magic number, Hynes would be $1.016m and Cleary would be $1.001m. So listing them at the same price makes sense, as it opens up the decision point for coaches that only choose to pick one. Many could argue that Cleary is potentially the better value given he averaged 75.9 outside of the hamstring game, but per NRL Physio he will be without a PCL next year. There’s scope to pick both of them in your starting team if you wish, however it may not be popular with:

  • Jamal Fogarty ($637k) looking like being a dominant half and

  • Kyle Flanagan ($347k) not getting a re-adjustment due to his season average containing 7 interchange appearances (average 12.9) when he averaged above 30 (adjusted for without goalkicking) when starting in the halves in 2023.

The decision point will be very interesting, and is something that we will cover in more detail across the pre-season at Talking League.

The Rest of the Artillery

When looking at the rest of the players that averaged 50 or above, there are not too many adjustments outside of the players that played minimal games (more on them later) in 2023. The only two notable players that had their prices adjusted up were:

  • Kalyn Ponga ($707k [51] to $757k [55], $50k increase)

  • Scott Drinkwater ($689k [50] to $715k [52], $26k increase)

I have no issue with either of these increases. Ponga averaged 62.8 at fullback in 12 games with just two scores below 50 (45 and 17). With the adjustment, Ponga goes from being considerably underpriced to almost fairly priced, with the concussion risk covering that potential 7-8 points of value. I still see him being a popular option from round 1. With no bye until round 12, he will be someone that will be in my thoughts if I spend big in the outside backs. Drinkwater’s increase appears to be a reaction to increasing Ponga’s price, which is fair given the Central Coast product’s back half of the season.

Discount Deals

As expected, we can see quite a few “discounted” players who have been priced at below the magic number. Usually this is for players that have played nine games or less, with some examples including:

  • Connelly Lemuelu ($575k [42] to $494k [36], $81k discount)

  • Dylan Lucas ($653k [48] to $558k [41], $95k discount)

  • Deine Mariner ($561k [41] to $450k [33], $111k discount)

  • Tyrone Munro ($458k [33] to $350k [25], $108k discount)

  • Sua Faalogo ($701k [41] to $263k [19], $438k discount)

  • Tom Jenkins ($547k [40] to $426k [31], $121k discount)

  • Hohepa Puru ($454k [33] to $325k [24], $129k discount)

Lemuelu appears to be the real anomaly (thanks Andy) in this patch, given he played 23 games including 3 games off the bench and 3 games curtailed by a concussion/failed HIA. If anything, he should be in the next section with the adjusted players. But instead, he gets the “Stephen Crichton effect” with a $91k discount, keeps CTR DPP and the Dolphins are the only team to play all three major bye rounds. Ceteris Parabus, he could be a nice season-long asset that becomes a tidy 18th/19th man down the stretch.

Discount Denied

Some players that played less than nine games that did not receive a discount include:

  • Sam Walker ($685k) – sorry TK ☹

  • Adam Doueihi ($626k)

  • Jayden Brailey ($575k)

  • Toby Sexton ($551k)

  • Zac Laybutt ($509k)

  • Ryan Papenhuyzen ($495k)

  • Brad Schneider ($468k)

  • Jonah Pezet ($452k)

  • Siua Wong ($444k)

  • Karl Oloapu ($408k)

  • Taine Tuaupiki ($388k)

Ryan Papenhuyzen is probably the headline grabber in this list, who like Lemuelu was a prime candidate for an adjustment. However as Mark Jessup from the Fantasy Amateurs pointed out towards the end of the season, Papenhuyzen’s 65 in round 27 against the Broncos dragged his season average up to 36 which probably high enough to avoid an adjustment. We’ll have to wait and see how the speedster shapes up in pre-season, as a goalkicking Papenhuyzen should be high on everyone’s shopping list. As NRL Physio pointed out, Papenhuyzen is coming back from an ankle fracture/dislocation and his pre-season will include a trip to the US for reconditioning work.

Adjustments Ahead

Just like we see discounts every season, we also see some adjustments. Adjustments are generally made on players that NRL Fantasy deems have “too much” points of value from the start and as a result, adjusts their price. I personally don’t mind adjustments, as they are usually applied to “obvious” round 1 selection candidates and thus increase the difficulty of getting your balance right. Some examples include:

  • Stephen Crichton ($595k [43] to $620k [45], $25k increase)

  • Shaun Lane ($491k [36] to $558k [41], $67k incease)

  • Josh Curran ($465k [34] to $501k [36], $36k increase)

  • Tom Starling ($389k [28] to $465k [34], $76k increase)

  • Joe Ofahengaue ($369k [27] to $409k [30], $40k increase)

  • Xavier Savage ($261k [19] to $350k [25], $89k increase)

  • Edrick Lee ($250k [18] to $298k [22], $48k increase)

Most of these make sense given the limited roles these players had compared to their full potential. Perhaps Crichton’s adjustment is to offset his initial underpricing in 2021?

The Boys are Back in Town

Another aspect that is always interesting is the players that are back having not played in 2023. Some of those players include:

  • Beau Fermor ($660k)

  • Taylan May ($600k)

  • Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($538k)

  • Krystian Mapapalangi ($250k)

Whilst there is a slight discount for RTS, most of that is probably evaporated by the fact that those were his 2021 numbers (having played Union in 2022 and 2023) and will probably not play fullback. Mapapalangi is firmly in the race to replace Dom Young and will be a popular pick if he gets the nod.

And that wraps up this edition of The Mercato. Be sure to join us in the next episode, where we discuss the game structure for 2024 including any rule changes. In the meantime, be sure to tuck into all the content on the Talking League Podcast Feed, including yours truly on Talking Sport.


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