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The Mercato - Quarter Measures

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. After dealing with non-Fantasy matters including a busy travel schedule, I’m back in the Talking League HQ and will be appearing on the Pod each week with an edition of The Mercato at least once per fortnight. In this edition, we’ll take stock of team values, trade counts and the teams that have byes before round 13.

Before we get into things, a quick update on #MercatoBall with the rank sitting at 7,240. Having had some PODs go pear-shaped in the opening rounds, I’ve been going backwards the last three weeks and my squad probably requires further surgery. Past this round, I’ll be joining most coaches in the process of recycling cows and amassing some decent options for rounds 13 and 14.

With 8 rounds in the rear-view mirror, we’re just over a quarter through the season. Or more importantly, two-thirds through the first phase of the season being the 12 rounds leading up to origin. In the pre-season I stated that I expected coaches to boast a squad value of $12m leading into Round 10. However, with the abundance of successful cash cows most coaches would be looking at team value closer to $13m than $12m, with some over $13m already.

With coaches well on the way towards that desired $14m+ to construct a ‘full gun’ squad, it leaves them being just one or two good cash cows away from hitting that pre-season target. Unlike previous seasons, the cashies that would appear around this season are nowhere to be found. This has caused coaches to be more aggressive in recycling cash cows and picking up options like Jacob Host, Hame Sele, Phoenix Crossland, Toby Couchman that were north of $300k instead of the traditional $230-250k. And when these go wrong *coughs* Host, it can really cause issues as purchasers are left deciding whether to cop a trade out, or potentially risk leakage to their squad value.

This process will likely continue. However, coaches need to remember that during the bye rounds you will be trading out origin players like Payne Haas and Cameron Murray; allowing you to move them on for under-valued guns that are ‘de facto’ cashies. This process is especially important for any coaches with a team value well below $12.5m – avoiding the temptation of purchasing peak-price guns when cut-price keepers are available to purchase to help build up your team value. Players that could fit this category included Hudson Young, Dylan Brown, Shaun Lane, John Bateman, Haumole Olakau’atu, Joseph Manu and Tevita Tatola, with a lot of them holding favourable bye schedules.

Whilst most coaches are travelling smoothly in the team value region, whether the trades remaining is sufficient for the remaining nineteen rounds is another question. To recap, trades are available as follows in 2023:

  • 36 available up to round 19

  • 8 remaining trades are unlocked from round 20, making a total of 44 for the season.

  • Maximum of 2 weekly trades until round 6, maximum of 3 from round 7 to 12 and a maximum of 4 from round 13 onwards.

I would imagine most coaches would be sitting between 20 and 26 remaining coming into round nine. Ideally, you’d want at least 23; which would mean you’ve ‘banked’ three trades by not trading the maximum every week. Having below that amount doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve traded poorly, you could’ve been the victim of multiple injuries/suspensions like Kalyn Ponga, Reuben Cotter, Adam Doueihi, Tommy Talau, Scott Drinkwater and Jayden Brailey to name a few. Or you’ve had PODs that haven’t gone that well and you’ve had to move them on before they leak too much cash. Regardless of the reason, the lower your trades remaining, the lower your margin for error is.

So, what is an “okay” number of trades to have left coming into round nine? Whilst there’s no perfect method to calculate this, comparing your trades remaining to your squad value is probably a reasonable guide. The reason for this is we aim to increase our team value by $4m to $14m to enable us to build a gun 18-19 for the run home. Of course, the run home isn’t as clear this year due to weekly byes, but it still holds as a decent guide.

In the Talking League Textbook, we looked at the value of the trade at being around $150k/trade. Now if you look at your current team value and trades remaining, you’re probably comfortably ahead in this equation. Even if you had spent all 16 trades (5 x 2 trades between rounds 2-6, 2 x 3 trades between 7-8), your team value only needs to be $12.4m or higher to be ahead on this equation. The trouble is that when we calculated the value at $150k/trade, we also considered the following factors:

  • You will spend at least 5-6 trades on long-term absences (injuries/suspensions for 3+ weeks) or ‘failure’ trades where the player you traded in needs to be traded out quickly because they’ve underperformed your expectations *coughs* Jacob Host.

  • You will need to use trades to trade out players that you have started with in round 1 that will soon peak in value.

  • You will have origin players in your squad that you will look to trade out before round 13 (or earlier).

  • You will need to make ‘sideways’ trades during the bye period to navigate the major (rounds 13, 16 and 19) and minor (14, 17 and 20) bye rounds.

For the purposes of calculation, we’ll take out 16 trades from the initial 36 with respect to the abovementioned factors. Which leaves us 20, or 5 trades per $1m ($200k/trade) of aspirational squad value increase. The below table indicates the quality of your trade management with respect to squad value (note that this does not consider rank, which doesn’t always hold a linear relationship with squad value).

It’s important to note that the above table isn’t going to blanket cover every team, as this the model factors in that your team will have above-average ‘bad luck’. The further are you away from an “exceptional” rating, the lower your margin for error is and reliance on avoiding ‘bad luck’ is. Even if your rating is “below-par”, there’s certainly no need to panic just yet. There will be cash cows and other undervalued players that will appear in future rounds to help you towards that desired $14m+. You shouldn’t stop trading if your rating is less than “good”, but your risk tolerance should be less than coaches who have a rating of “good” or better.

Now that we’ve taken stock of our trade management to date, let’s have a look at the four sides that have their first bye before we hit the first major bye round.

Melbourne Storm (byes in rounds 9, 13 and 19)

The Storm have several players of fantasy relevance and ownership including Harry Grant ($841k), Cameron Munster ($847k), Eliesa Katoa ($592k), Trent Loiero ($590k) and Will Warbrick ($390k). For the two Queensland representatives in Grant and Munster, you will have sufficient coverage to cover their absences in this round (assuming you only own one of them) and should hold them given their high ceilings. Ideally, you hold them until 13 when you can use a maximum of four trades to move on your origin players for bye-friendly players.

For the EDG pairing of Katoa and Loiero, coaches that own both should look to part ways with at least one of them. Which one you choose will depend on your trade targets as Katoa looks closer to a bottom-rung keeper whereas Loiero probably has more room for short-term price growth. I would probably push coaches in this position towards Katoa, who had a HIA-impacted 19 which saw him lose $37k and blister his rolling average. I have already traded out both due to the byes in rounds 9 and 13, and I wouldn’t talk coaches out of moving on both this round if there are no better trade-out candidates.

Will Warbrick is an interesting case, as we expect that he is close to his peak price for the season. Naturally that means that you should be trading him this week and picking up another green dot in his place, but you need to consider your coverage needs for the upcoming rounds. In outside backs, we have two popular options in Lachlan Miller (round 10) and Connelly Lemuelu (round 11) that will be unavailable soon. If you do not have adequate coverage for these rounds, it may be worth holding the rookie through the next three rounds and re-assessing then.

Newcastle Knights (byes in rounds 10, 14 and 19)

The Knights also have several players of fantasy relevance and ownership including Tyson Frizell ($745k), Lachlan Miller ($668k) and Phoenix Crossland ($432k). Unlike the Storm, the Novacastrians play in round 13 which makes them desirable fantasy assets. But with a bye in the tricky round 14, you can have too much of a good thing and you need to balance your Knights contingent with your Eels and Sea Eagles who also miss round 14. When it comes to Frizell and Miller, the equation is simple. They both are close to the best in their respective positions and loom as season-long keepers, so use your depth to cover them. If you own both, hold onto them and be cautious of your acquisition of Eels and Sea Eagles.

Crossland is a bit more complex as he missed out on the lucrative HOK DPP in the update post round 6 (next update is post round 13). The decision not to award it was consistent with the rationale used by NRL Fantasy – which is to not hand DPP to players covering a position due to injury. However, it does make it complicated for owners of at least two of Shaun Johnson, Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown or Isaiya Katoa as you can only use 2 HLF scorers in round 13. Given you purchased him for cash generation, holding until round 13 and deciding on whether to hold into the round 14 bye will be prudent assuming he remains as starting hooker.

Dolphins (byes in rounds 11, 16, 21)

The Dolphins also have several players of fantasy relevance and ownership including Jeremy Marshall-King ($698k), Jamayne Isaako ($644k), Tom Gilbert ($635k), Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow ($562k), Connelly Lemuelu ($503k) and Isaiya Katoa ($376k). The Dolphins have quite a useful bye schedule with their availability for two major bye rounds (13, 19) and all three minor bye rounds (14, 17 and 20).

Despite this great bye schedule, you probably want to hold off acquiring any more Dolphins until they pass their first bye in round 11. The one example where I would make an exception would be for Harry Grant owners who have him as the only HOK in their squad and want to hold him until round 13. If you cannot afford to bring in Reece Robson for the extra $39k, then bringing in JMK is a suitable alternative.

When it comes to holding onto Dolphins, you probably want to hold onto all that you have for now. That is of course unless you own four or more and would need to divest of at least one of them before round 11. Isaiya Katoa is a solid hold for the foreseeable future, as his slow burn nature means he’ll be fine to hold as a scoring option up until the second bye in round 16. Connelly Lemeulu was skating on thin ice after not playing the 80 minutes in round 7, but you want to hold as he’ll be handy over the first major and minor bye round. Given his likely involvement in origin, Tom Gilbert is probably someone you want to deal before round 11 and cash in the gains he’s made since round 1.

New Zealand Warriors (byes in rounds 12, 16 and 22)

The Warriors also have several players of fantasy relevance and ownership including Shaun Johnson ($822k), Tohu Harris ($673k), Jackson Ford ($523k) and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ($467k). Much like the Dolphins, the Warriors have a useful bye schedule with their availability for two major bye rounds (13, 19) and all three minor bye rounds (14, 17 and 20). In a similar deal to the Dolphins, you should hold off acquiring Warriors players until round 13. Not only does that mean you pick them up with one bye in the rear-view mirror, but as we learned with the Jayden Brailey injury, we do not want to rush our bye planning moves.

Tohu Harris is also another lesson from history, as coaches in 2021 picked him up before the round 17 bye only for him to get injured, miss that bye round game and then get a season-ending injury in round 18. He’s pointing to that risk yet again, forced from the field after 38 minutes against the Storm. The only circumstances where I would consider bringing him in before round 13 is where I suffer a significant absence to one of my MIDs and I need a gun MID replacement. But even in that instance, he has a lot of cash to haemorrhage before then.

Shaun Johnson has been a revelation in 2023, bringing back the glory days of being a gun HLF. Owners will of course continue to hold a player that boasts an average of 60. Like Mitchell Moses, non-owners would be best served holding off purchasing a player at their peak price for 2023. Granted, SJ’s price may not come down a lot over the next three weeks but your team value should continue to rise, and you’ll be in a much more comfortable position to outlay $750k+ on your 2nd/3rd HLF.

Jackson Ford probably doesn’t have an awful lot more to gain in value, but his utility is in the DPP that gives you positional depth and coverage. With the value this will hold in rounds 13 and 14, you should continue to hold for as long as you can. There may be some merit to selling him before round 12, but this would only be an outstanding cash cows appear. Given what we’ve seen recently, that appears unlikely.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad went through a world of pain on Tuesday Night, and his fantasy managers are feeling it too. With only one of three instances where a team plays three matches in eleven days, CNK looks set to only play one game of footy over the next month. Given the outside back issues on the horizon with Miller and Lemeulu on byes, owners should cut their losses and sell.

And that ends this edition of The Mercato. The next edition will be a ‘Mercato Mailbag’, where I’ll answer questions around the technical components (think rules) of NRL Fantasy Strategy. If you have questions around aspects such as looping, awarding of DPP, breakevens, squad setup, reversing trades, head-to-head ladders, be sure to leave your question in the comments section of this post and I’ll endeavour to answer them in detail. But until then, all the best for round 9 and join me next week for the first Mercato Mailbag.


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