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The Mercato - Rising Tides

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long form series for Talking League. With two rounds in the books, it’s time to take stock of what we’ve seen so far and what it will require NRL Fantasy coaches to do going forward.

Update from TL HQ

But first, a quick update on #MercatoBall. I published my round 1 team in the last edition of The Mercato, and since then have traded out Tatola and Moses for Kiraz and Fogarty. Starting with a 688 in round 1 which saw me ranked 61,266, I have moved 10k ranks forward into 50,789 with a 765. This puts me smack bang in the middle of the pack in the Talking League stables.

I’ve included the ranks so you can see how tight the competition is. Despite having just one point less than me, the Bunnings Bully Rikey is 511 ranks behind me. I’m 30 points behind Rich, who has at least 30,000 ranks on me. And Pat who’s copped a few more slices of misfortune is still only 34 points behind me yet is over 17,000 ranks behind me. It goes to show that a failed HIA or early exit due to injury for one player can send you back 30-40 points or in round 2 terms, 30,000 ranks. So why is this the case?

When we look at player ownership and captaincy choices, we get a set of indicators that tell part of the story:

  • There are 27 players that have an ownership north of 20%.

  • Of those 27 players, 4 are above 50% ownership, 7 are above 40% and 11 are above 30%.

  • Over 75% of coaches captained one of Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas or Nicho Hynes

With such a high concentration of players, it’s no wonder the rankings are so tightly packed. So what causes such a high concentration of players?

The environment – content creators

The main environmental factor over the past 3-5 years has been the emergence of content creators in both podcast and video formats. Previously, the landscape did contain Facebook groups such as Renegades to bounce ideas off with thousands of fellow coaches, although their prevalence has waned. Outside of Facebook, the main avenue for discussion is the traditional powerhouse of Fantasy that is NRL Fantasy Fanatics forum; which usually accounts for a large portion of the coaches that finish in the top 10, 50, 100 and 250 respectively. What Podcasts and YouTube videos offer that “write and read” formats like forums don’t is enable coaches to digest the content whilst getting on with their day. You can be going for walk, commuting to/from work, making dinner, cleaning the house and have a podcast/video on in the background and still take in the content. (And yes, I am aware that I am writing this down in an article). As a result, the influence that podcasts and YouTube channels have will continue to grow.

Which for some fantasy coaches is a bone of contention. We are just one of a many number of NRL Fantasy podcasts on the scene, and the number continues to grow. Which from my perspective is very exciting, anyone who takes the plunge and commits their spare time to making content will always have my respect. It’s not as simple as just turning up and talking into a microphone, it’s a lot more involved when you consider how busy life can get. With more podcasts becomes more different point of views, and the more chance that a Fantasy Coach will find a podcast that is suitable to what they would like out of a podcast. Which I personally think is a good thing.

With the increasing influence of podcasts, it means that players who are held in high esteem within content creators are likely to lead into high ownership territory. When different podcasts who place different levels of emphasis on various qualitative and quantitative factors all arrive to the same conclusion that a player is a good or not good selection, it’s going to lead to a large follow-through on that perspective. Of course, a healthy portion of the high ownership players is also down to name recognition (Nathan Cleary, Payne Haas, Reece Walsh, Kalyn Ponga, Ezra Mam, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow) but often it does compound the viewpoints expressed by content creators.

With this influence comes criticism. You only have to head to the NRL Fantasy Talk Facebook Group, the comments section on content creators or the DMs to see the complaints when said player performs below expectation to see complaints and criticism. Which is laughable, as no content creator is forcing anyone to pick or not pick a particular player. Each fantasy coach has the ability to choose who to buy or sell as they please; something to remember next time you want to sound off because a player you bought went poorly or one you sold went well. And that’s not just if you’re planning to send some traffic our way, that goes for any content creator out there putting the yards in to bring you content.

Correcting the Trajectory

With many active coaches lingering in the ranks near me or behind, there’s no need to panic. With 25 rounds and at least 42 trades to go, there’s plenty of time to splinter away from the pack and up towards your goal rank for the year. Achieving that goal isn’t necessarily won from what you do in the coming rounds, but it could certainly be lost by what you do or don’t do.

It’s certainly something I can attest to from last year, blowing out past 7k before Magic Round due to not picking up the big cash cows and being impatient on some highly-owned players that still had room to grow. It took some savvy movements in the bye rounds to climb towards the suburbs of the top 1k, before cruising into it during the final rounds. And that’s another aspect to consider; there will be plenty of opportunities to climb during the byes when h2h coaches take the foot off the pedal and others have burned too many trades. But for now, it’s a matter of making sure you get lifted by the rising tide when it comes to the players with momentum.

Terrell May (MID, $572k) is probably the best case in point. Brenton and I discussed him multiple times across the podcast in the past 3-6 months and how he needed the minutes to become a breakout player. Being named on the bench round 1 indicated that 2024 may not be the year. Admittedly he was the beneficiary of injuries in Vegas, but a promotion to the starting team in round 2 indicates that Terrell should be line for 50+ minutes each week. With a strong engine, he will be a strong shot of averaging mid-50s and despite gaining $82k already, is only priced at what would be a 42 price point in pre-season. With an ownership already north of 10%, it would take a brave coach to avoid acquiring him this week.

Lachlan Galvin (HLF, $261k) was one of the few bright spots in a soundly-beaten Tigers team. Despite conceding three penalties (yes, three) and making two errors, Galvin notched up 43 and is prime for some significant cash rises off the back of a small BE. Whilst there is some job security concerns in a struggling team, you could throw the same accusations at Drew Hutchison (HLF, $412k) and Kyle Flanagan (HLF, $371k) who are owned by a healthy portion of Fantasy Coaches. With no bye until round 13, Galvin should get plenty of opportunities to build value and is one that looms as a great pickup this week.

Currently, I am planning to bring both of these players in. With Heilum Luki (EDG, $492k) set for an extended time on the sidelines, I will look to replace him with May which should be no issue with $107k in the bank. As for Galvin, I’ll have to wait for TLT to find the best path.

With Luki heading to the treatment table, Kulikefu Finefeuiaki (EDG, $293k) appears to be newest cash cow on the block. It’s pretty hard to get a read on Kulikefu, given he averages under 25 in 42 minutes when in the NRL when playing 30 minutes or more. With an average in QCup last year of 39.2, the youngster has shown that he can score at a reasonable clip. Whilst coaches that have already secured May could look to acquire this week, for those with more pressing needs it may not hurt to wait a week and see what his minutes and eye test look like. Whilst Finefeuiaki may not be a “slam dunk”, he has a long runway (next bye round 16) like Galvin which will allow you to be patient once you have bought him.

On the Round 1B episode of The Fantasy Game Plan, Brenton and I spoke about the “out of reach” fallacy when it comes to players priced $750k or over. When it comes to players that will soon be $750k+, one name comes to mind in Zac Hosking. The 3.5% of coaches that took the calculated risk on him have reaped dividends as the former Panther and Bronco has already gained $113k. Even if coaches sold him this week (which they won’t), they would be taking a massive W let alone holding him until he peaks and switching to a depressed asset. Whilst we saw a similar quick rise in 2023, coaches that are considering Hosking need to account for the fact that he’s over $150k more expensive than the point where most piled in on the gain train last year. And with rolling averages: what goes up, must come down. Which means to buy now you have to think that he’s a rock solid keeper despite Whitehead returning soon, or you back yourself to time the market on the way out. With that being a difficult task, most coaches will stay away. But chapeau to the coaches who took him, a great example of what a POD play can do.

But that’s all for now from the desk of The Mercato. With a Redcliffe-enforced absence for round 2, I will be back to join Brenton on The Fantasy Game Plan for round 3 as we review the round and discuss the emerging issues facing fantasy coaches. But until then, all the best for round 3!


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