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The Mercato - Right on Schedule (HOK & HLF)

Welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. As we approach closer to the Major Bye Period, the more specific we can look to get with the players that we target that may be “good for byes”. In the last few editions as well as on The Fantasy Game Plan, I’ve spoken about how a player may be good for your bye planning build, but not for others. In this three-part #MiniMercatoSeries, I will cover each position with the lynchpin players owned by the majority and the players that can help with coverage and avoiding oversubscription.

Before we get into that, another reminder that the Talking League 2024 Bye Planner is now available to download. It’s a simple, free-to-use tool that can help visualise how your current collection of players stacks up for the bye rounds. I recommend using the bye planner in collaboration with this three-part series. The latest version (v1.5) is available to download below.

Download XLSX • 250KB

The aim behind this three-part series is to look at players owned by the majority of fantasy coaches. The reason that this is important is:

  • We only have a maximum of 16 trades (3 each in rounds 9-12, 4 in round 13) that we could potentially use before round 13 kicks off.

  • As per the data collected by the fantastic stats website that is YAFSS, coaches on average have 22 trades left. That is, they’ve spent 14 trades or almost a third of all trades available during the season.

  • Where possible, we want to avoid oversubscription as this leads to positional, points and trade wastage.

  • Where possible, we want to hold onto these players to save trades.

As discussed in previous editions, we want to avoid oversubscribing where possible in the major bye rounds (13, 16 and 19) as this is points gone wanting. However, it may be unavoidable if there are good quality cash cows or cut-price keepers that emerge before or during the major bye round period. What we want to do is avoid oversubscribing on expensive players, an example would be having all three of Jahrome Hughes, Shaun Johnson and Sam Walker in round 16 when you can only play three of them. Granted, Sam Walker is currently looming as a cut-price keeper but by the time you get to round 16, all three of these players should be $700k+.

In part one of Right on Schedule, we will cover Hookers (HOK) and Halves (HLF)

Hooker (HOK)

Relevant Ownership Players: Harry Grant ($746k, 29.91%), Brandon Smith ($565k, 21.76%), Reece Robson ($700k, 11.39%)

Harry Grant

Byes: Rounds 13 and 19

Origin: Certainty (QLD)

Grant enters round 9 as the hooker with the highest average. With the Storm having an origin-friendly combo of byes in 13 and 19, coaches will try hold Grant for the season. With this in mind, coaches need to develop solutions to cover 13, 16 and 19. If you want to rip the band-aid off and spend up, Jeremy Marshall-King ($669k) covers all three major bye rounds. Harry can cover JMK’s standalone bye in round 18 with ease, whilst round 14 would require him backing up on a Sunday in Newcastle.

Another round 14 red dot might make JMK prohibitable, especially for those who already own Cheese. With that in mind, acquiring Jayden Brailey ($490k) would give you:

  • 2 for r13 (Cheese as a MID)

  • 2 for r14 (if Grant backups up)

  • 3 for r15

  • 1 for r16

  • 3 for r17 (if Grant backs up)

  • 3 for r18

  • 1 for r19

  • 3 for r20 (if Grant backs up)

Acquiring Brailey would also give you the luxury of flicking Cheese from as early as round 17 if his numbers don’t stack up. A special mention also needs to go to Reed Mahoney ($721k) who is currently averaging as much as Grant. Cardi S misses round 15 which is a non-issue given Grant wouldn’t need to back-up from origin that round. That’s unlike his final bye in round 19, which would be best served by the aforementioned Brailey however both play round 13, leading to oversubscription.

Brandon Smith

Byes: Rounds 14, 19 and 23

Origin: Kiwi

Cheese has been a rollercoaster for owners, especially for those like me who have started with him for the 4th season in a row. With some recent low games and a looming round 14 bye, there is definitely scope for trading him now. If it wasn’t for his teammate Terrell May ($620k) being a must-sell and the fact I’ve near max traded, he’d be on the chopping block. As we’ve learned this year more than most, your best ability is your availability. And for once, Cheese has started and played every game so far. Between that and holding Harry Grant, Cheese will likely remain in my team until at least round 17. As discussed above in the Harry Grant section, a trio of Grant/Brailey/Cheese works well and probably only requires two trades to get Brailey in and potentially move one of him or Cheese back out. Even if we remove Grant from the scenario and run a Cheese/Brailey combo, you will have:

  • 2 HOKs for r13 (Cheese as a MID)

  • 1 for r14

  • 2 for r15

  • 1 for r16

  • 2 for r17

  • 2 for r18

  • 1 for r19

  • 2 for r20

Much like the Grant scenario above, Cheese would become a tradeable asset from round 17 once Brailey completes his second bye in round 16. At this point, you can move him to a player that will boost your round 19 numbers. Or if you wait one more week you could move him to a Titans or Rabbitohs player, who would’ve just finished their byes.

Reece Robson

Byes: Rounds 16, 19 and 25

Origin: Possible (NSW)

My long-lost cousin made his origin debut last season and is a decent chance of returning to the arena. Should he make game one, he’ll be just like Harry Grant in missing rounds 13, 16, 19 and needing to backup in rounds 14, 17 and 20. When you consider that the Cowboys have their final bye in round 25, missing round 13 probably makes Reece a sell. Especially if you already owned Cheese and Jayden Brailey is fit/already in your team (see above combo).

Even if you don’t own Cheese but pick up Brailey, Reece would be a sell if he played game one of origin. In this scenario, I promise that Shooter hasn’t twisted my arm but Wayde Egan ($669k) would probably be the best complementary piece for Brailey. Egan misses rounds 13 and 19, avoiding an oversubscription issue when Brailey is available but fills in when Brailey misses round 16.

If Reece misses origin selection and you also get Brailey, you’re faced with oversubscription in round 13. This is why if I were a Robson owner, I’d try find other ways to make money between now and round 13 before analysing if I want to buy Brailey after his round 12 bye. With a plethora of good cashies about including Kaeo Weekes ($278k), David Armstrong ($267k), Daniel Atkinson ($245k) as well as cut-price keepers like Sam Walker ($557k) and Reuben Garrick ($547k), I think you can afford to do that.

If you insist on holding Reece and elect not to purchase Brailey, you’re probably going to have to get creative for rounds 16 and 19. And the most creative roads lead to Redfern or Robina, words that should strike fear into any sane NRL fantasy coach. In fairness to the Titans, they have four players who are HOK-eligible: Tanah Boyd (HLF DPP, $630k), Chris Randall (MID DPP, $583k), Erin Clark (MID DPP, $477k) and Sam Verrills ($378k). Verrills is a big watch, especially as he is currently playing from the bench with a BE that increases each week. The Rabbitohs have Damien Cook ($738k) and Peter Mamouzelos ($346k) vying for the 9 jersey, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they share the minutes each week. All these six options come with large elements of risk (just ask B about the “junkyard dog”), so you would probably leave this decision until round 16 when these teams have two byes in the rearview mirror.

Overall, the HOK position should be quite manageable given the emergence of Jayden Brailey and the fact you only need to field one each week.

Halves (HLF)

Note: this section has been written with the assumption that Nicho Hynes ($996k) will play origin. Please Madge, just pick him.

Unlike the HOK position, I am going to base the structure around the fact that all active coaches should own Lachlan Galvin ($499k, 38.03%). If you are one of the 61.97%, please buy him as he is still incredible value at just-below $500k.

As know, the Tigers only miss round 13 in the major bye round period. This means you only need to find 2 HLFs for round 13 and only one each for rounds 16 and 19.

Relevant ownership players: Shaun Johnson ($897k, 24.92%), Max Plath ($611k, 7.1%), Jahrome Hughes ($784k, 6.97%), Dylan Brown ($715k, 5.74%)

Shaun Johnson/Jahrome Hughes

Byes: 13 and 19 (SJ also 27)

Origin: Kiwi

Given this pair of Kiwi Halfbacks miss the same two major bye rounds, it makes sense to examine them together. With one of these and Galvin, you will need to find 2 HLFs for round 13 and 1 HLF round 19 and ideally these players miss round 16 to avoid oversubscription. The best option to fill this role is probably their compatriot Dylbags, who has his remaining byes in round 16 and 20. By association, this also makes his halves partner Mitchell Moses ($733k) a valid option upon his return. A perfect addition to a HLFs mix of Galvin, SJ/Hughes, Brown/Moses would be Max Plath. With the MID DPP, Plath can feature in the HLFs alongside a Parra player in round 13, shift up to the MIDs in round 16 to accommodate SJ/Hughes & Galvin and then stay there when the Parra player replaces SJ/Hughes in round 19. Outside of these combos, most other options would cause oversubscription, trades or inferior OOP options playing the HLFs instead of WFB or CTR.

Max Plath

Byes: 14 and 18

Origin: Very unlikely (QLD)

The Swiss army knife accelerated the interest for a lot of fantasy coaches by acquiring MID DPP and finishing off two tries against the hapless Eels in Darwin. With Dolphins inheriting the Eels’ ability from 2023 to play all three major byes, Plath shapes up as a very interesting fantasy asset. Whilst some may regard a DPP of HLF/MID as not very useful due to it being the two best positions that are often well stocked, Plath’s flexibility offers fantasy coaches an integral bonus when it comes to bye planning: time. Now whilst we assume in this piece Hynes will play origin, there is a chance that he doesn’t. For coaches that have another r13-eligible HLF like Dylan Brown, Mitchell Moses or Sam Walker alongside Plath and Hynes; it enables them to flick Plath up to MID should Hynes miss origin but play him at HLF and buy another MID should Hynes get the nod as expected.

For Round 16, Plath’s DPP means you can shift him up to MID should you have another HLF to pair Galvin with (such as an SJ, Hughes or Walker). Which I imagine would be a very common situation for coaches, given the ownership of the two Kiwis plus the rush to buy Walker. In Round 19, Plath could easily be flicked back down to pair Galvin or retained in the 3 MIDs. This is incredible flexibility, especially when you consider that Plath will be available for every round from round 19 onwards.

It is important to note that round 14 is a very difficult bye round with so many fantasy relevant Roosters, Dolphins and Raiders in the game. For those who already have Plath or plan to purchase him, be sure to have a plan on how to remove your other potential round 14 red dots so you have a full 17. If Hynes plays origin, he will need to backup so it may be worth handcuffing him with Daniel Atkinson ($245k) should he be unable to do so.

Dylan Brown

Byes: 16 and 20

Origin: Kiwi

Dylbags has already been covered well in the above sections, but it’s still worth spelling out the situation for coaches that currently have him and Galvin. With those two, you only need to find one available HLF that plays 13, 16 and 20 but avoids round. Both Sam Walker and Max Plath fit the bill for this role, and that’s why both make for good purchases this week if you don’t have too many round 14 red dots. Given the value for money these two players present, I probably wouldn’t look elsewhere.

Overall, the HLF position should be pretty easy to fill each week given we got a player that was base price that only misses round 13. When you factor in there’s plenty of good Kiwis as well as a DPP that plays all three major bye rounds, HLF should be last issue for coaches heading into the major bye period.

In short, it should be relatively simple to navigate the HOK and HLF positions with minimal trades during the major bye period. Keyword being “should”. As we’ve seen already this season, carnage including injuries and suspensions can occur rapidly, so it remains crucial that you remain agile and flexible with your major bye round period planning. In the next two editions which should be available after round 9, we’ll cover the coverage strategies for the relevant assets in the MID, EDG, CTR and WFB positions. Until then, catch Brenton and I on The Fantasy Game Plan.


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