top of page

The Mercato - Reach for the NOS!

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. We’ve made it folks, round 20 is here and with it are the eight ‘bonus’ trades that make us all fantasy relevant again. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a clever move by NRL Fantasy to withhold trades in order to make sure the masses stay engaged in the game until the final rounds. In this episode, we’ll go over some of the key issues facing coaches this round.

But first, an update on #MercatoBall is in order. My fantasy team has put a bit more pride in the jersey over the last three rounds, going from rank 2,767 after round 16 to rank 1,262 after round 19. A bit more respectability on the season, although staying in the top 1,500 or so is going to be tough with coaches who were out of trades back in the mix. Pre-trades, I’ll have 17 available although will probably look to move Haas on to make that 18 to choose from, with just three on a bye. Which leads us nicely into the first topic.

Buy Hook or Bye C(r)ook

The last minor bye round sees three teams that have a few fantasy relevant players in their ranks sit out for coaches. Players including Jack de Belin, Tyrell Sloan, Zac Lomax, Jack Bird, Damien Cook, Cameron Murray, Campbell Graham, Keaon Koloamatangi, Tyrone Munro, Joseph Tapine, Corey Horsburgh, Matt Timoko, Hudson Young and Sebastian Kris are the main assets with fantasy relevance that are on the bye this week. Hopefully you planned ahead with our bye planner to avoid having more than three from this trio, as any more may make it difficult to navigate this round with the reliance of origin players backing up.

For the Dragons, the formula is simple. For those with a mass amount of WFBs *coughs Jake*, this is probably the optimal time to move on a player carrying a calf injury. Similar deal for Jack de Belin in the sense he’s a genuine keeper that will be available when the likes of Tohu Harris (round 22), Payne Haas (round 25), Cameron Murray (Round 26) and J’Maine Hopgood (round 27) have their final byes and thus is a hold. Zac Lomax should be a competitive CTR down the stretch and given non-owners will be eyeing him off next week it means current owners should hold the fort.

The Rabbitohs are probably the most complicated of the lot given they have two byes left. Tyrone Munro is a hold as a cash-down that is doing his job to a tee. Cameron Murray is a player of interest from next round, so owners should apply the above-mentioned Zac Lomax theory to him. Campbell Graham is a flight risk with that sternum issue and is probably someone to move on if you haven’t already. Keaon Koloamatangi is potentially a player to eye off but will remain a POD for a reason. Damien Cook is in very dangerous territory as he appears to be reverting to a 65-minute role. As I mentioned earlier this year, Cook’s attacking output has dropped off significantly due to the reformed playing style of Cameron Murray in 2023 and that looks unlikely to change. If you haven’t sold already, I would be looking to move him this week.

The Raiders’ contingent are easy holds for most coaches. Much like Munro, Sebastian Kris is doing what it says on the tin as a cash-out and you will hold as a result. Chalk down Matt Timoko as another one in the ‘Zac Lomax zone’ who at $567k will be a tempting buy for non-owners and a solid hold for current owners. Corey Horsburgh will be up there for a top 5 MID from round 21 onwards and Joseph Tapine is warming up with a 5-game average of 59.2. Horsburgh is a hold for every coach given his reliability whereas Tapine could be a sell for coaches with excess red dots. Whilst I could see the rationale in his minutes dropping back to earlier season levels, I’d struggle to sell a player in this kind of form.

For coaches that have four or more red dots from these teams, there is some solace in the fact these players do not ‘lock’ until the final game of round. This allows you to monitor the players from origin that are backing up and act accordingly. In my team, I have three of these players (Lomax, Horsburgh, Tapine) and intend to keep them given they have a clean run from round 21 onwards. I also have 4 green dots in the MID department, which neatly brings us to the next issuing facing coaches in round 20.

Forward depth is so MID

Coming into round 20, there are eleven MIDs who have an ownership of 10% or more and only six (Hopgood, Carrigan, Harris, Ford, Yeo and Stone) with two of those in Carrigan and Yeo having to back up from origin. The other five (Haas, Murray, de Belin, Tapine, Horsburgh) are all 55+ average potential down the stretch, meaning it will be hard to recommend moving any of these players on.

TK and Brenton covered the rationale on selling Haas in the latest edition of The Playbook. As much as I don’t want to recommend selling a player averaging 66.1, it is difficult to hold the fourth most expensive player in Haas who is guaranteed to miss two of the last eight rounds and is carrying an ankle issue. I will be personally selling as I have the MID coverage to do so. Granted, it will be hard to find a straight swap in the MIDs, but going across to David Fifita who has offered similar production and is available for two more matches would be a sound move. Such a move would require coaches needing MID coverage, of which Isaah Yeo is probably the only MID that will be close in production. Although as TK has pointed out, bringing in Panthers players could be fraught with risk if Ivan decides to ‘manage’ them for a week or two. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui has a 4-round average of 72.3 although it includes three tries which has sapped most of the value out of him (Sorry Pat).

To accommodate a straight Haas to Fifita move, coaches will probably need a budget-friendly MID. Moeaki Fotuaika will do what it says on the tin at $703k and is probably the only player I like in that $650k-$750k range. His origin teammate Reuben Cotter is very tempting at $571k but with a 15 to dive further into his rolling average I would probably need one or more dates to recommend him as a buy. Another poor score would see him lose bulk cash and be hard to replace should he get injured or suspended. For Cotter, he might be prime for a final trade in come round 25 to give three decent scores at a bargain price. The player who I would be willing to take a punt on in the 500s is Max King ($520k) who appears to be past the worst of a rib injury, and has been widely discussed across the fantasy community. Granted he has a bye in round 23, but as probably your only Bulldog in your squad represents a tolerable red dot for that round. Don’t expect 50s every week from him, but he’ll give you a decent score whenever you need to call on him.

DCE v Munster

Given there is just $4k in price difference between the two, plenty of coaches will be fading the OldElPaso advice and taking just one of the Maroons pair. The NRL Fantasy Amateurs have made some interesting discoveries regarding the output of Cameron Munster, which I highly recommended that you view on their post here. In terms of comparing the two players, you can have a look at past performances but as the Super ads “past performance is not a guarantee of future performance”.

When you extract the goalkicking points from both players, the pair more-or-less average the same in 2023. Aside from the fact the Storm may manage Munster in a game or two, the decision comes down to who you enjoy watching more. Will it be the “Apple Store Manager” in Daly Cherry-Evans or the “Sultan of Tin” Cameron Munster? Assuming both back up, I will likely fence-sit and pick up both in my mission to move on Jahream Bula before he sheds further coin.

Beware of Eelectrocution

It’s a topic that we’ve covered for a few weeks here at Talking League, but always worth keeping near the surface of the water. Whilst Parramatta’s final bye is a long way away in round 27, you want to be careful that you don’t maintain too high of headcount as you will likely spend most of your remaining trades before we hit that point of the season. With injuries, suspensions and restings to rack up late in the season, you probably want to keep your Parra headcount at a maximum of three with a plan to trade out at least one of them.

Brendan Hands is a nice hold at #20/#21, giving you a DPP “break glass in case of emergency option” that holds very little of your salary cap and can be looped with in round 27. Mitchell Moses is a genuine gun and should be held down the stretch, whereas Will Penisini may not be a locked-in gun but is more than good enough if you own him already. Other options like Sean Russell and Bailey Simonsson remain holds until the need to move them on arises.

J’Maine Hopgood is going to be a very dynamic player with his ownership being so relevant in all competitive phases (99% top 100, 98.1% top 1k, 93.3% top 5k). Given he has a bye left, moving off him to another less-owned option is on the table for coaches looking to break the mould. Noting that there is no immediate to sell him for those who would like to minimise trade consumption over the coming week. For most coaches, a J’Maine trade may need to wait a week given how difficult it will be the field three decent MIDs this week. I’ll personally look to move him on for David Fifita (assuming he backs up), which I can do comfortably before the game where their teams take on each other. Which brings us to our final topic – timing our trades properly!

Timing is of the essence

Fantasy fundamentals is something I often bleat on about far too often, but I do it because I regularly see people playing with fire and getting burnt. With four trades at everyone’s disposal, origin players backing up and more teams through all their byes, plenty of big moves are on the cards for coaches this week. To avoid getting scorched, remember the fundamentals of trading:

  • Don’t VC a traded-in player (unless they play first game). Given how good Hynes is, I would extend that rule to putting the C on any traded-in player for this round.

  • Try execute trades on your bench (especially where you are doing a cross-positional trade).

  • Where possible, try leave traded-in players on your ‘bench’ (slots 1-4) to maximise potential of reversing if required. This should be easy to do with all your natural red dots from byes.

  • Where possible, try ‘match’ your traded-in players with traded-out players that have their game in a similar timeslot. Where this is not possible, try ‘match’ the traded players by price to maximise reversal potential for the “cash-out” trades.

  • Don’t trade in a player on a bye this week – just ask early adopters on Valyne Te Whare how that went.

Speaking of timing, it’s time to wrap up this edition of The Mercato. Let’s all enjoy the fact that we’ve become fantasy relevant and use our eight trades wisely. If you have any questions about your trades this week, fire them in on the post for Tuesday’s show or be sure to join Brenton, Rich and yours truly for the live Q&A on Thursday from 6:30PM AEST/8:30PM NZST. If you don't catch me then, all the best for round 20!


bottom of page