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The Mercato - Shades of Viridian

And welcome back to The Mercato, a long-form series for Talking League. Round 1 is in the books and whilst there were a few thrills and spills, there wasn’t anything overly dramatic around the high-ownership players. And with that in mind, let’s delve into what coaches should look to do before round 2.

But first, a quick update on #MercatoBall. Overall, not an amazing round for TL – Ruck Like Fabbits as the common cash cows in my 17 performed quite well. Most of my expensive players scored around their BEs, which is good enough for me given I just want to avoid disasters (*coughs* Matt Burton) early on. My NPRs combined for my massive 47, which is quite concerning. More by fit than design, the only players with upcoming byes in my squad are Smith (Round 4), Boyd (Round 5) and Trindall (Round 6). With 21 players available, I won’t be planning to make any trades this week however TLT may change my mind.

Some other coaches may not be in an as fortunate position, due to players not getting the minutes/role that they were expecting from the pre-season. The inverse could also apply, with players that you don’t own having a role or minute allocation that was beyond your expectations. And with 44 trades at our disposal, we certainly should be making to change things up if we’ve made errors in judgement or suffered misfortune.

There’s no exact science to dictate when we should trade out a player so early in the season without a lot of data to base the decision on. There are a few lead indicators, namely:

  • A player has an extended absence due to injury or suspension. Generally, this is considered anything 3+ weeks for any player that has significant and low ownership, however it will vary on the make-up of your squad.

  • A player has a role or minute allocation that is below your expectations from the pre-season. Sometimes this can be hard to gauge after one game but where you’re depending on a player getting the 80 minutes and they don’t, it may be simpler.

  • A cash cow has dented their breakeven formula with a low score, meaning they won’t generate cash for a couple of weeks. This again requires a lot of discretion, as you must forecast that they won’t recover quickly and moving them to a cash cow with much higher prospects.

  • The player will lose their role due to the return of a player that is higher in the pecking order or due to poor performance. The urgency of which you may need to do this depends on the nature of the return; from injury may mean you be a bit more patient than a player returning from suspension.

Whilst there may not be a clear case for all the four above, Luke Garner certainly sits in the second category. For the 13.2% of coaches that own the former Tiger, their worst fears of Jaeman Salmon taking minutes were founded in the 51st minute with Garner not returning. Given this will be business as usual, stepping off Garner now for a player with better cash generation prospects would be a prudent move. You could give it one more week to be sure, but you don’t want him in your squad in round three when the Panthers have the bye.

When it comes to exact science, the rationale behind when we should trade in a player is even more complicated. I spoke about this in an article I wrote for Renegades Fantasy Sports in 2019 that NRL Fantasy Coaches can’t have the mentality of a Pokémon trainer in trying to “Catch them all”. With only 21 squad slots and an initial budget of $10m, it is impossible to have the “perfect” combination of having every single player with upside, cash generation and reliable scoring.

That is because there’s more than 21 different players that you could have in your squad that would be considered “good picks”. And with that in mind, you need to be prepared to “miss out” on some of these players as you just won’t have room to fit them in. And that’s not a problem if you have a player that’s performing at a similar level and making comparable gains in value. This is especially important to remember when it comes to the guns you don’t have. Yes, Payne Haas owners may be concerned by him being outscored by Pat Carrigan, but Haas did get 63 points himself. You may want to bring in Carrigan after an excellent performance; but if you haven’t got a player in the same price bracket that’s a clear trade out, you’ll need to stick with your round 1 picks.

Carrigan’s performance does bring up an interesting statistical theme from the first round. Before we get to that, it’s probably worth noting that the 70 minutes he played on Friday is inflated above his expected average thanks to Staggs and Capewell HIAs messing with the rotation. He should still be in those 60-65 minutes each week, so no concerns for owners there. What was interesting was the number of tackles he made, a lot more than he did in 2022. As mentioned before, this was a common theme in round 1 with defensive lynchpins:

  • Pat Carrigan: 50 tackles (averaged 34.4 in 64.3 minutes – 2022 games of 50 minutes or more)

  • Tohu Harris: 51 tackles (averaged 36.9 in 71.6 minutes – 2022 games of 60 minutes or more)

  • Harry Grant: 59 tackles (averaged 40.8 in 77 minutes – 2022 games of 60 minutes or more)

  • Isaah Yeo: 54 tackles (averaged 39.8 in 76.8 minutes – 2022 games of 60 minutes or more)

  • Reed Mahoney: 51 tackles (averaged 42.1 in 76.9 minutes – 2022 games)

  • Reece Robson: 49 tackles (averaged 43.1 in 77.8 minutes – 2022 games of 60 minutes or more)

  • Cameron Murray: 51 tackles (averaged 42.5 in 70.2 minutes – 2022 games of 50 minutes or more)

  • Blayke Brailey: 50 tackles (averaged 42.5 in 78.2 minutes – 2022 games)

Whilst we’ve only got one round of data, it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions given minutes for some players listed above were inflated. From a football perspective, all coaches are so focused on defence coming into round 1. Couple this with the earlier start to the season and we’ve likely going to have the “stronger” teams being a work-in-progress in attack, leading to more play down the middle play which equals higher tackle counts for defenders in this zone. As teams blow the cobwebs out, I would expect to see more set plays and structures out wide that will smooth out these tackle counts.

Does this mean that the tackle counts for the main middle players will revert to 2022 numbers in the coming rounds? Not necessarily, the slight adjustments in the rules might mean that we have higher tackles counts across the board. Or it may not, we’ve only got 1 round of data so for now I’ll be sitting on the fence getting splinters as I shout, “more data!” Whilst I wouldn’t talk anyone out of taking the plunge and grabbing Tohu Harris after that showing, I personally would want to see it happen again at least once or twice before trying to move him into my side.

Where I expect a lot of movement will happen is in the cheaper ranges of NRL Fantasy. This is the most important part of your squad to correct. Not only because of the value gains on offer, but a lot of the popular cash cows flailed, including:

  • Isaiya Katoa (11, 52.71%)

  • Paul Alamoti (17, 51.55%)

  • Alofiana Khan-Pereira (0, 40.41%)

  • Tommy Talau (16, 30.13%)

  • Shawn Blore (13, 19.11%)

  • Jacob Preston (18, 13.76%)

There were mitigating circumstances for some of these players, and in most instances you’d probably want to give them another chance. Your appetite for doing so probably has a lot to do with your bank balance and what other spot fires that you’re looking to quell with your trades this week. Unless we get given a juicy option on TLT, it may be worth holding fire.

On the flip side, there were some cash cows and mid-rangers that absolutely shot the lights out, namely:

  • Josh King (77, 1.28%)

  • Mark Nicholls (75, 1.55%)

  • Lachlan Ilias (73, 3.57%)

  • Wayde Egan (64, 1.76%)

King was another one to capitalise on high tackle counts in the middle (55) but is probably subject to a reduction in minutes once Tariq Sims returns. Given his price point, it’s pretty hard to take a gamble on someone whose minutes and role are uncertain after just one match. If he’s in the RFA in your draft, I’d definitely grab him if you need some MID depth.

Mark Nicholls has been a controversial topic across Fantasy circles in pre-season but look assured in his 49 minutes off the bench. On the minutes, he did receive a “bonus” 10 minutes as he came on as a free interchange for Jarrod Wallace (victim of foul play) in the 63rd minute and the Dolphins may opt for another forward given how dynamic Jeremy Marshall-King was. Even without the 17 point try he scored 57 points and will likely be a trade target for many this week. Whilst he’s not a “must buy”, it’s probably the last week that I’d take him given he sapped 3 points of value with his price increase this week.

Lachlan Ilias is someone that we pointed to having points of value in 2023. I projected him in the textbook to be 36-38 with potential to improve into the 40s if he could improve his defensive numbers. He was certainly more impactful on Saturday Night, recording more turnover tackles (3) than missed tackles (2). The turnover tackles are unsustainable as a week-to-week proposition, as well as scoring a try that was worth 17 points. If you slide the Turnover tackles and Try out, he had 42 points (note that still includes a TS, TA and 2 LBAs) which is probably a fair projection if you believe he will be more of an offensive threat this year. Like Nicholls, he’s sapped three points of value with his first price rise, so he’s someone that you would have to take this week if you wanted to try cash in. I’ll personally stay with the majority and shy away from a player who just played a perfect game.

Wayde Egan is probably the most interesting of these options, given the 80 minutes is probably his if he can stay on the park. Yes, his 64 contained a try and a try assist which accounted for about 23 of those points but outside that he tracked at 0.65PPM which is ample for an 80-minute hooker. As our Shooter has been telling us all pre-season, Egan had just 4 tries and 3 try assists in 2022. Whilst he won’t get them every week, there is scope for attacking upside and I can see him being a popular trade target for Brandon Smith should he miss some games with that rib concern.

There’s plenty to think about for all NRL Fantasy coaches leading into round 2, and the number of trades that you use might just come down to how unlucky you were in round 1. Before you pull the trigger, be sure to take a step back and think about the long-term implications. I also encourage you to refer to pages 13 and 14 of our Talking League Textbook on how to best set your team up for round 2, particularly if you are planning to make a trade or two.

Good luck to all the NRL Fantasy Coaches for Round 2. Due to other life commitments, The Mercato will be taking an unexpected pause until Round 5. This will also be the round when I next appear on Wacky Wednesday. We’ll see you then for the resumption of regular programming. Before then, keep the dial on your podcast app tuned to Talking League and keep giving your Fantasy team three dates!


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