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The Mercato - Pending Arrival

Welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. With two major and one minor bye round in the rear-view mirror, we’re officially halfway through the major bye round period. In this edition, we’ll explore the aspects of strategy that coaches need to be cognisant of as they transition towards their final squad build when the final eight trades unlock in round 20.

Accountability Time 

But first, a bit of Accountability Time. As you can see, overall the Talking League Team are going quite well.

Since we last spoke, my rank has improved from 8,766 to 2,872 off the back of four consecutive green arrows. The first one in round 13 was quite minor (300 ranks from 8,766 to 8,466), but I have since shaved off almost two-thirds of my rank in the subsequent three weeks. With these movements, my season is eerily similar to 2023.


Total Points

Overall Rank

Trades Left

Squad Value











The ranks are almost identical; however I’ve scored 1,006 points less than at this point last season. We could attribute this to the slow start for most teams, as well as the injury carnage that struck most coaches in the period prior to the major bye round period. Interestingly, I had one extra trade left but $136k less in squad value (which is almost spot on for my estimated value of a trade). Last season, I exited the major bye round period in round 20 ranked 1,292 and then had six green arrows in the remaining seven rounds to cruise into a top 1k finish at 649th. If I could repeat that from this position, I wouldn’t be too discontent.

Extra Trades, chew on that

As stated in the rules, NRL Fantasy coaches will have eight trades unlocked at round 20. This is different to the final DPP update, which occurs in round 21. Since round 13, we’ve been able to spend four trades per round so in theory coaches could drop back down to zero in round 21. Of course, plenty of coaches may need to make 3-4 trades to correct the course of their rank as the injuries and suspensions continue to mount up. Not only that, but origin players will also be past all three games and seven clubs will have completed their byes and present some uninterrupted value for coaches. So, it will be tempting to go large when these trades unlock, but there are some reasons to try and be prudent with your trades.

More unplanned absences

As it states in those superannuation fund advertisements – “past performance is not an indicator of future performance”. However, it can be a good guide to what we can expect. Especially when it comes to injuries and suspensions, which have absolutely buckled coaches on an almost weekly basis. We will continue to incur more red dots in our squad, so it’s important that you pace yourself when making your final upgrades.

Beware the Shipwrecks!

In a similar article last year, I pointed out the risk of shipwrecks. That is, teams that fall mathematically out of the finals equation. These shipwrecks may become even more dangerous when that team is likely to have a different coach, which is a certainty at the Rabbitohs and you think more than likely at the Eels. Whilst the Titans and Tigers are unlikely to sack their coaches, they could also fall in the shipwreck situation given they appear unlikely to make the finals. Whilst the Rabbitohs have won four in a row, the current bottom four could all be risky finals prospects as certain players may have their roles reduced due to:

  • Not being at the club next year (so other players may be preferenced)

  • Being sent for surgery that otherwise would’ve happened in the off-season

  • Coaches wanting to blood new players in a setting with less pressure than early season

Of course, clubs won’t deliberately tank as there’s no draft picks or other concessions to be gained from not winning games. And more importantly, professional athletes take exceptional pride in their performance and are not going to just mail it in because they make finals. However, the shipwreck situation is something to consider for the players currently in your side, as well as those who may potentially join your side. On the Fantasy Game Plan, I have highlighted that Damien Cook is a high-risk shipwreck candidate should my Rabbitohs pick up a few losses. It’s not to say to not buy him, but caveat emptor.


In 2024, the following teams will have byes in the final eight rounds:

  • Knights (Round 21)

  • Sea Eagles (Round 22)

  • Roosters (Round 23)

  • Broncos (Round 24)

  • Cowboys (Round 25)

  • Tigers (Round 26)

  • Warriors (Round 27)

With all of these teams having fantasy relevance, it’s important to consider who will be unavailable in what round. Especially as we move towards our final builds, there will be less emphasis on DPPs and more focus on scoring potential. This is important to consider in the outside backs (WFB and CTR) where relevant assets like Reuben Garrick, James Tedesco, Joseph Manu, Dom Young, Reece Walsh, Scott Drinkwater and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will be unavailable.

This is where the composition of your bench will be quite important, especially if there’s capacity in your salary cap to hold onto a player like Kayal Iro. Iro is “only” averaging 41.6 this season, but after his final bye in round 20 he will be available every remaining round. For coaches like me that have both Garrick and Tedesco, Iro could be a handy depth piece as he could deputise for Garrick in round 22 then remain in the CTRs when Garrick returns to backfill Tedesco with his DPP. Iro only has two scores below 35 this season, so he is what I would consider quite reliable for a player who isn’t considered “elite”.

The other component to consider with these final byes is avoiding having multiple players from these teams. The two teams that are highest risk in this category are the Roosters and Tigers. The Chooks have some absolute fantasy weapons in Angus Crichton, Connor Watson, Joseph Manu and James Tedesco. The Tigers have been very helpful over the major bye round period, only missing round 13 until their final bye. Whilst I wouldn’t be advising coaches to chop down their Roosters and Tigers contingent, I would be careful about adding to it given the ability to diversify your squad with players who have no byes left.

Keep it Organic

I like my red dots organic, and so should you. With byes, concussions as well as short-term injuries and suspensions, it’s unlikely that we’ll have many weeks where we’ll have a complete 21 to choose from. These organic red dots will be sufficient to loop with, so I would avoid picking up deliberate red dots as cash outs. With only one player currently priced above $900k in Nicho Hynes ($932k), for most coaches it should be feasible to buy a cash-out that has a 3 or 4 at the front of his price that has decent job security. Some examples of these players include:

  • Jesse Bromwich (MID, $335k)

  • Alex Johnston (WFB, $342k)

  • Phoenix Crossland (HOK, $351k)

  • Xavier Savage (WFB, $352k)

  • Billy Walters (HOK/HLF, $357k)

  • Jason Saab (WFB, $359k)

  • Jack Bostock (WFB, $375k)

  • Toafofoa Sipley (MID, $382k)

  • Jesse Arthars (CTR/WFB, $420k)

Now this list of players above is far from inspiring, but it’s important to remember that a cash-out has one goal: free up cap space. You don’t intend to trade this player back out, they are designed to sit deep in your emergencies and only be a “break glass in case of emergency”. Perhaps the only exception in this list is Toaf Sipley, who averaged 45 last season and can score above a PPM. Whilst players like Bostock and Arthars may look too expensive to be cash-outs, it's important to note that due to early exits in their last matches, they will return with high BEs and could feasibly drop below $350k with two scores on the lower side.

If you do insist on going cheap as chips, try aim for a player that only needs a slice of fortune to see an increased role. Peter Mamouzelos may be the man for the job, as at $257k is probably only one bench appearance from hitting bottom price. As we discussed earlier, should South Sydney fail to win a lot more games, Mamouzelos may get more game time at the expense of the outgoing Damien Cook. Other examples in this price bracket include Jack Howarth ($249k), Kurtis Morrin ($253k) and Tom Ale ($276k), although it’s probably best just to avoid it all together.


The Need to Satisfice

sat·​is·​fice ˈsatə̇ˌsfīs
"to pursue the minimum satisfactory condition or outcome"

On The Fantasy Game Plan, we’ve been talking about the need to satisfice as we look to navigate the major bye round period and build our final squad. The main reason we need to satisfice is that whilst we should have a clear idea about who the best players in each position are, it’s going to be impossible to play Pokémon and catch ‘em all. As Riley and I spoke about on the latest episode, for every trade under 21 trades that you have equates to one player that will stay in your team for the rest of the season. For example, I have 10 trades left (2 plus the 8 from round 20). That means a minimum of 11 players from my current squad (see below) will remain.

Now before everyone decides to do a drive-by on my squad, there are obvious holes with it in its current iteration. There is a clear depth of gun HLF talent, a lack of top-tier MIDs and I am probably one strong outside back short of my final side. But hey, at least I have 6 players that can play EDG and 3 that can play HOK.

Semantics aside, I’m not too worried about my current position as with $238k in the bank and only two players priced below $500k. This composition means I have enough room to make a cash down or two to bring in Nathan Cleary, Nicho Hynes and Isaah Yeo without blowing all my remaining trades. Both Brendan Hands and Fletcher Sharpe should put on another $100k+, so the ammunition should be there. Getting an extra strong outside back may prove a challenge, however we will see what Jayden Campbell’s diagnosis looks like. J’Maine Hopgood is another tempting option which could be a straight swap for one of my Knights EDGs (if I haven’t sold both before then).

As you can see in my squad, there are some players that will need to be sold in the coming weeks. The likes of Kaeo Weekes, Tyran Wishart and Fletcher Sharpe will need to be dealt when the first-choice option returns from injury and will probably peak when they are replaced. Above that, we have the likes of Max Plath, Stefano Utoikamanu, Kai Pearce-Paul, Dylan Lucas, Shawn Blore, Samuela Fainu and Brendan Hands who may be serviceable. However, I probably don’t want to keep all of them and nor will I probably need to.

When you’re appraising who you would like to keep in your side and who you would like to bring in, it’s important to be realistic. Whilst my squad value increased by over $1.2m between rounds 16 and 27 last year, most of that increase was in players that were scoring well and thus not sellable assets. I would budget for only an extra $300-400k increase across the assets that you will definitely sell, such as the trio I listed above. With that projected squad value, you can get a good handle on how many upgrades you can afford to top-tier guns without gutting all your depth.

Long way down the stretch

It’s also important to remember that at round 20, there is still eight rounds to field a full side. Even if round 27 ends up being a write-off like last year, there’s still seven rounds where you need to put out a team that will give you the chance to gain ranks. When you consider all the factors raised in this article, it may be prudent to hold off burning four trades in round 20 and pacing the upgrades over a few weeks. If 2023 is anything to go by, it should prove a fruitful strategy as many coaches blew 5+ trades over rounds 20-21 on upgrades, only to leave themselves crumbs in the remaining rounds. I personally used two trades in round 20, held off in round 21 and only made minimal ranks in those rounds but set myself up to make a big splash in round 22. Lose the battle, win the war.

But that wraps up this edition of The Mercato. Be sure to tune in every Monday as Brenton and I break down all action from the round that was on The Fantasy Game Plan. Continue to enjoy the NRL Fantasy journey, keep plugging away and we’ll catch you soon for another edition of The Mercato.



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