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The Mercato - Living on a Prayer


Welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. We’re halfway through the major and minor bye rounds, and plenty of coaches are living on a prayer. As the fantasy chaos continues into round 17, let’s take stock of the key issues facing coaches for this week and beyond.


Of course, the obligatory update of #MercatoBall. A disappointing season continues, as a 777 was only enough to move me just over a thousand ranks forward to 2,767. I’m 230 points behind 1k, which is looking more and more unlikely. But with 5 trades in the bank and a full 17 this week with the reliance on only 2 origin backups, we’ll see what happens.


Speaking of trades, that’s a good place to start our look at round 17. The constant chaos since round 13 as continued, as key players have succumbed to injury (Cleary, de Belin), stand-downs (Brown) and origin selection (Cook, Robson, Moses, Fotuaika). This has caused overall coaches to rip up a lot of their bye planning and improvise; forcing them to make more trades than planned to not only replace these players, but to look for players to fill those gaps in the major and minor bye rounds.


And there’s been plenty of players that we touched on previously who have proven to be very useful in round 16, posting great scores. The problem was with a lot of those players is that they play for the Sharks, Bulldogs and Tigers and are therefore unavailable in round 17. In my browsing, it’s not uncommon to see coaches with at least five of: Nicho Hynes, Briton Nikora, Jesse Ramien, Reed Mahoney, Karl Oloapu, Jacob Preston, Harrison Edwards, Matt Burton, Isaiah Papali’i, John Bateman, Jahream Bula, Jake Simpkin or Starford To’a. And I’ve also seen plenty of examples of more than five, which when you consider the trade position and the need for origin players to backup means there will be lots of teams rocking less than seventeen players this round. Which can mean one of two things: you could slide back and lose gains without tin-arseing a captain (more on that later), or solid planning and a slice of luck could see you gain even more with your full squad.


Most coaches who own a lot of players listed above probably won’t trade many of them out. Yes, that may be due to a lack of trades after burning a few extra between rounds 13 and 16, but it’s also worth noting a lot of these players are worth keeping down the stretch. Especially your Sharks and Tigers, who have their final bye this week and will be eligible to contribute in each of the final ten rounds. For Bulldogs players it’s slightly less appealing with their final bye being a standalone in round 23. But for this trio of teams, the importance of these players is they will be available in both the final major (19) and minor (20) bye round as overall coaches get their final opportunities to make massive moves. And of course, most of the above-mentioned players are quality fantasy assets which you don’t willingly trade away.


Speaking of teams getting through their byes, the Titans have knocked over their third and final bye in round 16 and their non-origin players will be available for the final 13 rounds. Outside their origin contingent, there’s probably only two assets that really need to be on the radar in Tanah Boyd ($681k) and Jayden Campbell ($454k). The value of Boyd has increased furthermore with the availability issues surrounding the second tier of HOKs in Jeremy Marshall-King (AC Shoulder issue), Damien Cook and Reece Robson (origin). With his availability locked in, he’s a fine addition for those needing depth across both positions in rounds 19, 20 and beyond. Jayden Campbell is a watch at his price and someone who will be of interest should there be another long-term absence for Kieran Foran or AJ Brimson.


Brimson is worth keeping an eye on with that handy DPP, but it’s hard to step onto a player who is 18th man for game 2 and could easily hold that for game 3. Maroons coach Billy Slater won’t demote him for game 3 purely because the Titans play in round 19, so he’s worth waiting until the last minute. Take it from someone who held off buying Moeaki Fotuaika in round 15 due to the high chance of being selected for the Maroons, waiting and being late is better than being early and getting it wrong. Speaking of origin, David Fifita ($883k) is a player that is going to become very attainable in the coming month. With a BE north of 100 coming into round 17, there’s every chance that Holbrook manages his workload as he did in round 14 when he scored 15 in 33 minutes. Even if we lift this expectation up to 45 minutes and have him going at a PPM, he will lose around $60k and be low $800s heading into round 18 with another massive BE. Assume he scores a 70 in a full game, cops similar rest treatment in round 20 and he could easily be south of $750k come round 21 and essentially a must.


The reason I highlight Fifita’s likely plummet in price isn’t because it’s unpredictable (most active coaches would have him on their shopping list), but because several of these opportunities are going to in round 20 and beyond. And not only do you want to pickup all these bargains, but you want to do so without having to expend multiple trades. So, it’s something to consider how the trades you make between now and then help you take advantage of these opportunities when they inevitably arise. Not to mention, anyone who has three trades or less only has one trade per remaining round in the NRL (with many of these to be chewed up by chaos).


It'd be remiss to have an article published in the lead up to round 17 without touching a little bit on round 19. Round 19 is both far away in the sense so much can happen in terms of player availability and close in that it will be on our doorstep in a fortnight. In a vacuum, the simple advice that I would have for coaches when looking to add to their round 19 complement is to avoid adding more Dragons, Rabbitohs or Raiders as they have the bye in round 20. Looking a bit broader, I would be thinking a lot about how any addition for round 19 fits into your final build. This is because most overall coaches spent most of their fuel tickets for the charge into rounds 13 and 16 and are on fuel preservation mode until the boost in round 20. You don’t want to trade someone in for rounds 19 and 20, only to find yourself needing to yeet them back out soon after and chew into your already-low trade number.


Round 19 in a distance appears to be a very easy bye round to post double digits in terms of players on the park. There’s a couple of decent options at HOK, HLF and CTR whilst plenty of solid options exist in the MID and EDG. Which leaves the WFB as the position where ranks could be gained or lost. Looking at the available options, the only player who averages above Jahream Bula (who everyone owns) is Jamayne Isaako (onya Pat!). Whilst Isaako has proven his mettle this season, I’d struggle to recommend anyone with low trades pursue a player who still has a bye left in round 21.


Below Isaako, you’re looking at the likes of Clint Gutherson (byes in rounds 18 and 27), Ronaldo Mulitalo, Starford To’a (currently out of position), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (HIA merchant, bye round 22) and Jacob Kiraz (still not 100% after that knee issue). Of those options, you probably don’t want to be diving into them unless you’re flush with trades and best wait in case AJ Brimson is available come round 19. For those with trades to burn, taking the risk on a WFB or two is a move that certainly has potential to boost you up the ranks, given you have the security blanket of trading them back out.


Round 17 shapes as the most interesting captaincy choice since round 3 when Nathan Cleary was on his bye and Nicho Hynes was still unavailable. I’d argue that this one is more spicy, as coaches will be very wary of captaining a player backing up from origin after what happened to Nathan Cleary in round 14. As it stands, there’s only two players that average 60 or higher available this week in the from of Shaun Johnson ($849k) and J’Maine Hopgood ($794k) and a further two that average 55 or more in Addin Fonua-Blake ($827k) and Jack de Belin ($823k). This quartet make excellent C/VC combos, as they all feature in the first two games of the round. If you do opt to put the C on a player backing up from origin, make sure you stick the VC on a player who plays earlier like one of the four mentioned above. And if you’re captaining an SJ or JDB, you may as well throw your VC on a player also playing in that game to maintain maximum flexibility should you wish to tinker mid-round.


But that’s all for The Mercato for now. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out TK’s latest edition of The Playbook and the rest of our podcasts for the week. I’ll be back on deck for Thursday’s Live Q&A and if I don’t catch you then, all the best for round 17!

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