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The Mercato - MIDcato


And welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. With the calendar officially showing 2024, it’s time to roll out the training cones and resistance bands and get back into some strategic fantasy chat. Tomorrow, our team previews will get underway with the vomits Roosters and after the other 16 teams, we will hit you with our positional previews. I will be hosting the MID positional preview, and in this edition of The Mercato I will discuss the players in the top end of the position.


The Middle Forward (MID) position is the most reliable scoring position in NRL Fantasy alongside the Halves (HLF). It boasted 6 of the top 10 scorers (by average) and the output for the premium players is quite predictable. Naturally, you would like a couple of these players from round 1, which is made easier by the decrease in the Magic Number for pricing ($14.3k to $13.75k). However, with the nature of the position it means that any underpriced assets (cash cows, mid-rangers) will present supreme value. With several potential underpriced assets looming in the lower reaches of the MID position, it makes sense to pick just one gun. Let’s examine who the best option will be.


Payne Haas ($880k – Byes 13, 16 and 24)

Haas finished last season as the third highest scorer overall and the top MID. For coaches that opted for him from round 1, they got him for a bargain $809k as he powered on to an average of 64. Which is where he is priced to begin 2024 under the new Magic Number of $13.75k. Had the Magic Number not been adjusted back down to $14.3k, Haas would’ve set you back another $35k. Of course, every player pegged to the Magic Number receives that “discount”, but it applies pro-rata meaning the more expensive players receive a bigger “discount”.


In 2023, Haas had three scores below 50 (47, 49 and 48), shaping as an excellent VC next to your Cleary and Hynes, given he plays the second match of the season. With the Broncos featuring in all 12 rounds before origin, Haas is odds-on to go in as the top total points scorer and thus will be a popular round 1 pick (47% selection at time of writing). With two byes on origin rounds (13 and 16), Haas presents perfectly as a season-long hold and will be a staple in all my pre-season builds as I see him as worth the premium price.


Isaah Yeo ($870k – Byes 6, 16, 19)

A lot of the principles mentioned for Haas also apply to the Penrith co-captain. Yeo has two byes on origin rounds (16 and 19), posted just one score below 50 in 2023. You can set your watch to Isaah averaging somewhere between 60 and 65, making him a solid VC option from the get-go. My main apprehension with taking Yeo over Haas would be the round 6 bye. Not only because it is very early in the season, but for Nathan Cleary owners it will account for $1.9-2m of squad value on the pine when your team value is below $12.5m. That consideration won’t be required for Hynes owners (who is selected seldom compared to Cleary), so Yeo will likely remain a POD for good reason come round 1.


J’Maine Hopgood ($837k – Byes 9, 16, 20)

The former Panther was a fantasy revelation to the surprise of few, planting himself as a legitimate gun in 2023. With a charitable retention of EDG DPP and availability for the first 8 rounds, Hopgood does appear tempting however he looks priced at his maximum potential. For the Eels, I expect Shaun Lane (absent for a lot of 2023) and Bryce Cartwright to play the 80 on the edges. Assuming Lussick and Hands share hooking duties, this will see six middles battle for 240 minutes. When you consider that six will likely include all of Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson and Joe Ofahengaue, I struggle to see J’Maine getting enough playing time to even tread water. For now, Hopgood looks like a “wait and see” from round 10 if you then require some round 13 forwards.


Jack de Belin ($793k – Byes 11, 16 and 20)

JDB as a fantasy player does bring back memories; in 2017 he started the season with a 92 and helped me into 10th place after 3 rounds, before I crashed and burned into a final overall ranking of 230th…. but we digress. Jack returned to fantasy prominence again in 2023, with his 10 70+ minute performances seeing him average 67.3 in 76.5 minutes. With a new coach in the building, there is a chance that Flanagan could wind back the clock to 2015 and give his lock a near-80-minute role. If he does, de Belin could be a great choice. I personally don’t think he’ll do that, so like Hopgood I feel JDB is worth pondering post his first bye.


Tino Fa’asuamaleaui ($793k – Byes 2, 13 and 17)

Pat’s favourite non-Knight has burned coaches early in the past few seasons. With a bye in round 2, “Mega Iszac” is off the menu for fantasy coaches. Case closed, right?


It’s worth noting that in 2023, Tino:

  • Averaged 50.4 in 62.4 mins in first 10 rounds (9 games - bye round 5) which included 4 scores of 45 or lower. This saw him drop from a starting price of $771k to $689k (lowest price was $671k in round 9). He did score two tries in this period.

  • Averaged 64.3 in 61 mins in the remaining 10 games of the season with 4 tries. Also includes two backing-up performances (round 14 and 20). I’m not a betting man but put money on him scoring under the posts in round 14 against the Bunnies at CBUS (he’s done it the last two seasons).

 

This trend is akin to his 2022 output, where he averaged 46.6 in 61 mins in first 10 rounds (2 tries), then 57.41 in 58 mins during rest of season (2 tries) in 12 games. Could lightning strike thrice? Unless the lad from Gympie goes on a try-scoring rampage to start the season, I see a world where he drops $75k by round 7-8 with a sub-50 score or two in his rolling average. Coaches with the cojones will goes against conventional wisdom on origin players and take the gamble that history will repeat itself. Will you pull the #TinoTrigger before origin? “Hey Siri, set a calendar event to check Tino’s price on Monday 22nd April”.

 

Addin Fonua-Blake ($792k – Byes 13, 19 and 27)

AFB has certainly been talk of the off-season along with Mr “I don’t got work tomorrow”, with the transfer saga resolved with him joining TK’s Sharks from 2025. With that in the rearview mirror, I expect AFB to continue from where he left off in 2023 for the Wahs. Addin was outstanding from a fantasy perspective, rolling at almost a PPM in 60 minutes. The issue however is whether he can score 8 tries in a season again. Relying on that amount of tries to tread water from a fantasy perspective seems dicey from round 1. For me, AFB will be on the radar from round, 14 where he can play 5 straight rounds as well as the tricky round 20 minor bye.


Patrick Carrigan ($791k – Byes 13, 16 and 24)

2023 saw Carrigan marginally improve over several areas to become a rusted-on gun in NRL Fantasy. Given he’s just 26, there’s nothing to suggest Pat will regress in 2024. My only concerns with Carrigan don’t come from him as a player in isolation, but from your overall team strategy. I see Carrigan priced per output, which for me is something I would only cop from my C and VC. Yes, he did start last season with 4-round average of 58.5 – but that is essentially what he is priced at to start 2024. For me, the late bye rules Carrigan out of contention for me in 2024.


Cameron Murray ($787k – Byes 7, 13 and 17)

This time last year, I was very keen on Murray in my round 1 team due the value on offer and the fact he would be present for the first 12 rounds (unlike Cleary and Hynes). With a bye in round 7, we don’t see any déjà vu in 2024 sobs.

Murray finished 2023 from a fantasy perspective, averaging 64.8 from round 21 onwards which is what piques the interest of coaches to start 2024. What concerns me is the start, where he averaged 55.8 leading into origin with Souths on fire with an 8-4 record. The part that is concerning is during this period is Murray was distributing a lot, leading to great opportunities in attack for the team but not for the skipper. Should Souths return to this style in 2024, Murray may tread water until his bye at which point coaches may look to sell.


It is worth noting that there is potential upside due to a regression in Errors, Missed Tackles, Line Breaks, Tackle Breaks and Offloads in 2023. However, there is no exact science that says he will return to 2022 numbers. For me, Murray will be a superb downhill purchase from round 20 (should he backup from origin, otherwise round 21).


And that wraps up this edition of The Mercato. During the pre-season, I will join TK and Brenton on Around the Traps – where we go through the latest news and views from the NRL pre-season. I will also be hosting our Titans and Dolphins previews, as well as featuring on our Rabbitohs preview with Pat. Until then, continue to make the most of those unlimited trades and make moves to your heart’s content.

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