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The Mercato - Inflation Nation

Welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. With all this talk of inflation around the place, I thought it was worth looking at a player that can improve your future purchasing power in Heilum Luki.

But before that, a reminder that you can download our 2023 Bye Planner now. Simply head to this link to grab your copy and begin to visualise your bye planning today!

A quick update on #MercatoBall as well before we get into the Luki chat. A predictably low score for me this week with just 17 green dots as I was happy to take some short-term pain before long term gains over the bye period. Scoring 842, I slid back to the overall rank of 5363 with no plans to trade this week pre-TLT.

Heilum Luki shot to prominence in round 11, scoring 84 which was the 4th highest score of the round as the Cowboys put away the hapless Dragons. An enthralling 60-minute performance contained 2 tries, 2 line breaks, 2 offloads, 6 tackle breaks and a career-high 192 minutes. Owners were ripping out the lasso on Saturday Night as Luki went on a rampage as he gained $56k in value. At $516k, is it too late to jump on?

The first place to start with Luki is to have a look at where we would project him to score on a weekly basis. To date Luki has played 31 NRL games, averaging 35.2 points in 44.1 minutes at a PPM of 0.79. With a wide range of minutes played across these performances, it’s worth drilling down a bit deeper into matches where he plays bigger minutes.

Based of what we saw on the weekend, it’s not unreasonable to expect Luki to play a minimum of 55-60 minutes each week. Of his 31 NRL matches, he’s played 50 minutes or more on 14 occasions, averaging 43 in 60 minutes which is probably a fair estimate of his future output. In this sample, Luki averages 0.4 tries and line breaks, arguably sustainable for a dynamic ball-runner that always poses a threat to the defence.

Defensively, Luki doesn’t post the most impressive numbers, averaging 22.8 in net tackles as he is prone to the odd missed tackle when he doesn’t make contact from the perfect defensive angle. This was highlighted in the Cowboys Magic Round ambush on the Roosters, where Luki missed 4 tackles that were largely avoidable. Although in fairness, the conditions were atrocious compared to the preceding six matches at Suncorp so you could follow Andy and label it as an anomaly.

Regardless of how optimistic you are of his defensive numbers, they do feed into his base, which is relevant when potential purchasers may only be looking at a rental for the next three weeks in a cash-grab. In this sample, Luki averages 86.7 run metres which shows how much of an outlier the 192 he ran for against the Dragons was. In matches in this sample where doesn’t score a try, Luki averages just 34.9 in 58.8 minutes which indicates that purchasers will be thirsty for a try or two in his upcoming matches.

So, should non-owners jump on Luki? At $516k, Luki is priced at a 36 average which does present some value for a player that we’re expecting to average around 43. With a BE in the single digits, Luki is primed to make some quick cash and presents as a useful option in round 13, the first major bye round. Speaking of bye, the decision to whether to buy him is ultimately shaped around your bye coverage in rounds 13 and 16.

It's important to remember that during the major bye rounds (13, 16 and 19), you can only field 13 scorers in the alignment of the starting 13. This means that you can only play 2 EDG in each of these rounds, which means if you have 3 or more EDGs that don’t possess DPP, you will have positional wastage. Depending on your current EDG artillery, Luki could go from being a raging buy to sensible avoid.

Looking at round 13, Luki probably isn’t that much worse than J’Maine Hopgood, Tyson Frizell, Jack Bird, Haumole Olakau’atu, Hudson Young, Jaydn Su’A, Jai Arrow or Connelly Lemuelu. This list gets narrower when you consider Bird and Lemeulu should line up in your CTRs and the likes of Arrow, Young, Frizell and Olakau’atu are all very much in the origin frame. When you eliminate these players, Luki is very much a passable asset for one of your two EDG slots in round 13. If you only have no or just one pure EDG option for round 13, Luki certainly ticks the box.

Moving through to the first minor bye in round 14 and Luki will be a nice dependable scorer as coaches do without their Sea Eagles, Knights, Eels and any origin players that don’t back up. Not to mention any red dots that arise from 11-day standdowns or selection decisions made by club coaches, Luki will be a welcome option.

Round 15 isn’t too much of a concern from a scoring perspective, as the Cowboys are the sole team on the bye. Given they don’t boast many fantasy relevant options in 2023, having him as a red dot should help open up some looping opportunities for the risky coaches. The main issue with the placement of this bye is coaches who are looking to pick him up this week really need him playing to boost the short-term cash generation. And this turns into a potential cliff, given what round 16 will have in store for Fantasy coaches.

Looking at round 16, coaches have the choice of J’Maine Hopgood, Nikora, Zac Hosking, Isaiah Papali’i, Tyson Frizell, Teig Wilton, Nat Butcher, Haumole Olakau’atu, Angus Crichton and John Bateman who all pose as superior options for your 2 EDG slots. Granted Hopgood and Butcher are DPP with Crichton, Frizell and Olakau’atu being in the origin mix; it still leaves a lot of EDG options that you would rather play over Luki.

With the awkward placement of the Cowboys’ first bye in round 15, Luki is a tricky proposition for coaches that are weighing up whether to buy him or not. Given you probably don’t want to play him in round 16, you’re essentially looking at a rental for 3 rounds where you’re hoping for quick cash and a big score in round 13. He does enter round 12 with significant momentum in his rolling average which aids this. But all it takes is one mediocre score to halt that and have him battling to reach $600k+ by round 15, when you’d be looking to flick him. As a result, I will be personally avoiding him however I won’t be talking coaches out of taking the plunge.

The only recommendation I will have for coaches is to buy a time machine and buy him in a previous round. That’s the only way you’ll get the desired $150k+ in gains from the transaction that await the 3.48% who currently own him. But failing that, list out your potential round 16 EDGs and identify whether you’ll be happy to accommodate Luki over a better option in round 16. Maybe even crack open the Bye Planner and pencil him in!

But that wraps up this edition of The Mercato. Just another reminder that I will be looking to publish the first edition of the #MercatoMailbag in the coming weeks where I tackle the technical aspects (rules) of NRL Fantasy. If you have any questions that you would like answered, hit us up in the DMs. Until then, all the best with your Luki decision!


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