And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. The first major bye round is in the rear-view mirror and the first minor bye round is at our doorstep. In this article, we’ll go through what we learned in round 13, and where we need to head in round 14 and beyond.
But before that, a quick update on #MercatoBall. The road to redemption continues, as my SJ-captained team of 13 combined for 726. Some points left on the table, but c’est la vie. The round rank (2,161) and overall rank (2,158) were basically matched so nothing too awful, onto round 14 we go.
Round 13 was an interesting mix of really good scores with a few brilliant scores sprinkled in between. Even sides comprising a few cheapies or playing one or two players short had no issues getting above 700, with 219 coaches eclipsing 800 off the back of a solid captain and a strong supporting cast. Plenty of ranks were up for grabs, as dedicated head-to-head coaches that have had a strong start to the season took their foot off the pedal with an eye towards rounds 14, 15, 17 and 18. This is important to remember coming into round 14, as a poor score in this round will see you lose a portion of the ranks you gained in round 13 to these h2h teams.
The lessons from round 13 are almost the same as they are every year when it comes to the byes, so it’s almost worth calling them “reminders”. The first one being that it is always sensible to pace your bye planning, aiming to be 1-2 players away from a complete 13 as we hit the major bye round in question. That way, you’ve got the ability to max-trade (if required) to get to 13 and have some wiggle room in case an unexpected absence occurs due to injury, selection, suspension or origin. Who had Tyson Frizell, Hudson Young, Reece Walsh and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow getting selected for origin on their bingo card 4-5 weeks ago? I sure didn’t, even though I owned none of those players in Classic.
Pacing is important because rushing the preparation for a major bye round can also cause coaches to become unstuck. We had an early warning of this in round 6 when Jayden Brailey succumbed to another season-ending ACL injury, a player that was shaping as a great round 13 HOK option. We then had last minute chaos with the likes of Ryan Matterson, Jadyn Su’A and Lachlan Miller being last-minute DNPs as we exited round 12, causing coaches to make more trades as planned. Whilst we can never predict these absences; these won’t be as painful if you continue to focus on players with a great value prospect, irrespective of whether they play the next major bye or not. Because as we’ve found out, buying players ‘because they play bye round X’ often doesn’t yield the best results.
Moving forward, round 14 is the first ‘minor bye’ where three teams in the Eels, Sea Eagles and Knights have a bye. When you consider the fact that origin players will battle to back up for their club teams 48-96 hours after game in Adelaide, plenty of overall coaches will be struggling to field a full 17 players. But overall-focused coaches would be across this, having balanced out their selection of round 13 players across the available teams to ensure that they had no more than 4 players on the bye this week. Or at least having plans to move on 1 or 2 of them to get to the 17.
Like any major or bye round, sideways trades with high opportunity cost just to make it to 17 aren’t worth it this week, especially if you fall short due to an origin player not backing up. But you do want to remain flexible in this round, and this is where your VC and C selection can be crucial. For mine, your VC must go on a non-origin player this week, especially if your planned C (Cleary or Hynes) is backing up from origin. The last thing you want in a round where numbers are tight is to have your VC and C at jeopardy of the origin back-up equation. To maintain maximum flexibility for mid-round trades, you probably want to VC a player that features in the first two games. There are some decent options like Isaiah Papali’i, John Bateman, Joseph Tapine, Corey Horsburgh, Shaun Johnson and Tohu Harris that are held by coaches. I’ll personally throw mine on Corey Horsburgh, especially if he stays on the edge this week.
Round 14 also sees us enter this interesting phase where we have some teams that have passed through two of their three byes, and some teams that are yet to pass through one bye. Granted the fixture computer would’ve had a nightmare trying to create a ‘balanced’ draw where every team would have enjoyed a bye by now, but here we are. The two teams yet to have a bye after round 14 will be the Broncos and Rabbitohs, whom besides the elite assets are prime trade candidates before round 16.
The teams that have passed two byes are the most intriguing options for new recruits, with players from the following teams fitting this category:
In Round 16, the above teams (sans Titans) are joined by the following four teams that also feature:
With Round 16 in mind, let’s go through the different classes of teams.
The first class of teams are the ‘consecutive’ teams in the Panthers, Roosters and Storm. These three teams are quite useful in the fact they are the only teams to play in each of the next five rounds. With all the other 14 teams missing at least one game before round 19, a few players would make for good ingredients in your mix during the middle part of the season. Whilst these players will miss the final major bye in round 19, that probably isn’t too much of a concern as most overall coaches will be focusing on players that fit their “final” squad build as opposed to those who ‘play round 19’.
Compared to previous years, the teams don’t boast as many fantasy-relevant players. For the Panthers, coaches who own Zac Hosking ($677k) will hope he continues to do what it says on the tin. Dylan Edwards ($742k) is currently the highest averaging WFB (55.9) remains an excellent choice albeit made suffer a loss in production in games where Cleary and/or Luai are absent. James Fisher-Harris ($584k) is the cut-price play, having averaged 55 (2022, 13-16 & 18) and 47.8 (2021, 13-16 & 18) in the recent bye round phases. Given a low output game in round 12, coaches may wish to ‘see more data’ before hopping on if they are comfortable with their round 14 numbers.
The Roosters are another team where you only want to pluck one or two to have at this stage of the season. For the 14.22% of coaches that held Joseph Manu, he will be incredibly handy if he continues at five-eighth. Nat Butcher ($730k) is a reliable DPP performer, but priced to expectation he seems like a luxury pickup. Should he stay in the starting hooker role, Jake Turpin ($334k) will be an excellent foil for Cook and Marshall-King owners and will likely be a popular pickup. Angus Crichton ($613k) is another option with significant upside but given EDG will be easy to solve in round 16 he may be a wait-and-see.
The Storm is the least lucrative of these three teams, with their only two top-tier keepers featuring in origin. Trent Loiero ($634k) holders may as well continue to do so when an upgrade to Nikora or a Tigers EDG may be apt. The real wildcard for those who love to break the mould is Nelson Asofa-Solomona ($604k), who has had a season hampered by injuries. He’s played just six games, with only three of those containing 45 minutes or more. Capable of massive scores when fully fit, it’s probably worth waiting at least one week to see how the rib issue is off the bye. With a BE above 65, there’s no benefit going early on NAS. For anyone considers themselves lucky could take a punt on Xavier Coates ($264k), but I’d struggle to recommend him given he got to that price for that reason.
The next class of teams are the ‘double trouble’ teams in the Tigers, Sharks and Bulldogs. These teams will play two of the remaining minor byes (14 and 20) and the two remaining major byes (16 and 19). Given they miss the minor bye in round 17, you don’t want to overindulge in these teams with most active coaches owning Jahream Bula ($456k). For those who still own Nicho Hynes ($1m) will be looking at a maximum of 19 green dots before other players from these teams and origin backups, leaving a fine line when most coaches will be in single digit trades.
For the Sharks, Briton Nikora ($745k) is the 2nd best pure EDG in Fantasy (56.4) and is probably the only other keeper you want from the Sharks. Depending on your EDG complement, he’s a prime pickup either side of the round 17 bye. Ronaldo Mulitalo ($615k) has been incredibly consistent with just one score below 38 thus far, although has required a try per game to average 42.6 and is probably not an option unless loaded with trades.
The Tigers do have a few options that may be worth a look before or after their round 17 bye. The EDG pairing of Isaiah Papali’i ($706k) and John Bateman ($685k) will become more popular as time goes. With BEs above their 2023 averages, coaches will have several opportunities to purchase them for an acceptable price. David Klemmer ($648k) is also attracting interest, although probably needs more minutes than the 50.8 he’s averaged to hold value. Jake Simpkin ($220k) is an interesting bargain basement option that will offer good scores in rounds 14, 16 and 19 but is unlikely to build value with Koroisau available to play in rounds 15 and 18.
The Bulldogs are the least tantalising team in this class, given they also have a bye in round 23. Holders of Jacob Preston ($658k) will keep calm and carry on until round 17, but aside from him it’s probably just popular cashie Karl Oloapu ($293k) who is a pickup. Max King ($637k) has slowed down since he suffered a rib injury, and like NAS would need to put runs on the board to be worth acquiring. Jacob Kiraz is an interesting prospect for coaches need WFB ammo for rounds 16 and 19, averaging 50 before a knee issue interrupted his momentum in round 7. With a BE near his average, you probably want to give him at least one date given he’s not looked 100% since his return.
There’s not much to say about the prospects for the Knights and the Sea Eagles, which was covered last week. The only thing I’ll add is Samuel Fainu ($250k) could be an interesting cashie for round 15, especially as the MID will be the most problematic position to complete in round 16. The same goes for the Eels and Cowboys, however they do bring to light a slightly different discussion around team concentration for standalone byes. Aside from the round 14 bye, Parramatta are on an island in rounds 18 and 27 when their players take a spell. As for North Queensland, they have standalone byes in rounds 15 and 24.
This is something to consider in your team make-up down the stretch. For teams that have standalone byes remaining (Cowboys x2, Eels x2, Dolphins, Warriors, Bulldogs, Broncos and Rabbitohs), you want to make sure that you don’t over-commit to these teams. Especially in the same position, as it will take a lot of your cap room out in that position during those rounds of absence/s. On the flip side, the teams that have no standalone byes left do not require such caution. This is because the source of your red dots in rounds 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20 are academic, as long as the volume is low enough to enable you to field a full squad in those rounds. Or maybe that’s what I keep telling myself to justify having two MIDs from a team coached by Ricky Stuart. In fairness, they combined for 153 points in round 13 and look set to fill their boots in round 14.
I’ll leave you with the thought of Corey Horsburgh slaloming through the defensive line to the try line with his new-found aerodynamism. If that doesn’t put lead in your pencil, I’m not sure what will. Join us in the next edition where we will likely be looking at cramming for round 16. Until then, all the best with your trades.