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The Mercato - Prepare to disembark!

Welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. We’re at the foot of the mountain range that is the final major and minor bye rounds and trades are thin. But once we reach the summit, we’ll be met with eight more trades to use down the stretch. In this edition, we’ll go through plenty of the different aspects that we will need to consider when using these final trades.

But first, a quick update on #MercatoBall. I’ve chipped about 1,000 spots off my rank in the last fortnight, currently sitting at 1,876. Not an amazing spot to be, but with 10 players available for round 19 and two trades that could be used to boost that number, I’m looking to improve that rank ever so slightly this week.

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 after round 20 (round 21). Since round 13, we’ve been able to spend four trades per round so in theory coaches (*coughs* Shooter) 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 eight 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, which we explore.

Beware the Shipwrecks!

As teams outside the top eight continue to lose games and fall mathematically out of the finals equation, they will look towards 2024 and how they can be best prepared. This can have several consequences for coaches and players, as we’ve already seen with the Dragons and Titans installing new coaches for 2024. Should the Titans join the Dragons in drifting away from the eight, certain players may have their roles (or appearances) reduced as the new coaches want to see what certain players have got. Extending this out to any team outside finals contention, certain players may also see a reduction in gametime due to:

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

  • May get 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, coaches who are still employed beyond 2023 will be looking to maintain their jobs by winning games. But part of maintaining a job well into the future is ensuring that season 2024 gets off to a rolling start. With this mind, I would be very careful about holding and/or trading in players from the Tigers, Dragons, Bulldogs, Knights and Dolphins. Of course, there are notable exceptions to these in the likes of Isaiah Papali’i and John Bateman (Tigers), Jack de Belin (Dragons), Kalyn Ponga (Knights) and Jacob Preston (Bulldogs). Although, you probably own most of these players already and are looking elsewhere.


As noted earlier, eight teams will have completed their byes by round 20. Which means nine teams will still have at least one bye:

  • Rabbitohs (rounds 20 and 26)

  • Dragons (round 20)

  • Raiders (round 20)

  • Dolphins (round 21)

  • Warriors (round 22)

  • Bulldogs (round 23)

  • Cowboys (round 24)

  • Broncos (round 25)

  • Eels (round 27)

Most of these teams have quality assets that hold relevant ownership in NRL Fantasy, which means coaches will need to have plans in place to backfill these absences. This is especially pertinent for the teams in the last four rounds (Cowboys, Broncos, Rabbitohs, Eels) as most coaches will be close to zero trades. At this point, you don’t really want to be burning on a trade for a one-week rental in the CTRs or WFBs because you didn’t adequately plan your depth chart. Scott Drinkwater is probably a great case study as his recent surge in form has probably solidified his role as a WFB keeper despite his bye in round 24. You’ll need at least one WFB in reserve or a surplus in another position with DPP (such as DPP via Manu) that has rock solid job security, enter Sebastian Kris.

Kriss Kross

Kris has become a very topical player at Talking League HQ, with leading lights TK and Brenton very enthused by the prospects of the Kiwi international. On the face of it, a starting fullback that averages less than 30 isn’t the most tantalising asset to acquire. However, four words (Canberra Raiders starting fullback do change the tone.

As TK aptly detailed on this week’s edition of The Playbook, Kris has rock solid job security in a team that is very much in the finals race. The only two games Kris has missed were due to injury (rounds 8 and 14) and that reliability brings to the fore why he makes sense as a cash-out. Bringing him in for a player that’s done their job (think Jake Turpin) to sit as the 21st slot in your roster as a DPP “break glass in case of emergency” option. He immediately brings you some points in round 19 as a WFB scorer, then sits at #21 in case you have multiple one-week absences in the outside backs in a round.

For most coaches that scoop up Kris, you’ll play him in round 19 against the Dragons (who he scored 61 against in round 7) and round 27 if you’ve run out of trades. Yes, he may not score much but the point is he’ll give you some points when you call upon him. It’s worth noting that Kris probably isn’t a great option for all coaches, especially for those who already have a sub-300k player sitting in their NPRs. I wouldn’t consider spending cash from your bank and a precious trade to bring him to replace someone like my main man Tommy T a good use of resources, although I’m tempted to make that move to accelerate my round 19.

Reports suggest that Nathan Cleary will be back in round 20 or 21, which means he will be prime for the picking in round 22. That of course coincides with the Warriors bye and presents a dilemma for Shaun Johnson owners, who could look to use him as a stepladder to the elite Panther. Such an operation would require multiple trades up your sleeve, as you’ll either have to create cap space or have multiple trades to use said cap space. Should Cleary continue where he left off, you probably don’t want to cop six rounds of your opponents banking massive scores from the Chin.

Suspensions and Injuries – they will happen (source: trust me bro)

Probably the most obvious of the considerations in this article. I recommend going through your trades and identifying how many were the result of an injury/suspension; the number should be quite large. Remembering that an injury can cause multiple things to happen including opening up an opportunity for an underpriced player to become relevant (think Reuben Garrick when Tom Trbojevic had his season ended). The value and scoring that such opportunity presents may almost make that player a “must have” for coaches with trades; should this happen after all your trades are spent, a slide may be on the cards. Whilst you may allocate 3-4 of your “bonus” 8 trades to upgrades to your final form, you probably want at least half of them allocated towards reacting towards the inevitable chaos that will hit our fantasy teams.

But that wraps up this week’s edition of The Mercato. Join me next week as I go through each position in the context of finishing off your squad for this season. Until then, you can catch me on this week’s Live Q&A on Thursday as I’m joined by Rich and Riley to answer all your last-minute questions. All the best with your trades for round 19!


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