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The Mercato - so this is Christmas!

And welcome back to The Mercato, as Christmas has come early! NRL Fantasy has delivered an early present with the game released earlier this afternoon. Note that the best way to access it is via the website. If you are on an iOS mobile device, press and hold on the NRL Fantasy button to prompt your browser to open the link in another tab. The App for both iOS and Android should be available in late January.

In this edition of The Mercato, we’ll have a look at the game’s changes for 2023 and how they may change the strategy that you applied to the game in 2022.

As advised on the official website, here are the following changes that impact overall play:

  • The salary cap will be $10m (previously $9.4M) to spend on 21 players (same as 2022).

  • Coaches have access to 44 trades (previously 36). These trades can be spent as follows:

- 36 available up to round 19

- 8 remaining trades are unlocked from round 20

- Maximum of 2 weekly trades until round 6;

- Maximum of 3 from round 7 to 12 and

- Maximum of 4 from round 13 onward

  • Major bye rounds (13, 16, 19) are capped at a maximum of 13 scorers (previously 17).

  • DPP updates will occur after TLT round 1, 6, 13 and 20 (previously 1, 6, 12, 18).

Overall, there are plenty of interesting changes that make the game a little bit more dynamic in 2023. The main issue we identified at the end of 2022 was the odd number of teams and how that would impact the structure of NRL Fantasy. The two main levers that were available to alter the gameplay were trades or player slots and the game has opted for the former. For veterans, this may be seen as a disappointing move that makes the game “easier” and doesn’t reward those who save trades adequately. However, it’s important to note that engagement metrics are important to the NRL. If coaches aren’t clicking on the website post round 18 because they’ve run out of trades, that’s less eyeballs on the sponsored ads.

But from a game perspective, adding more trades does make it easier for coaches to assemble a side full of premium players that punch out 1,000 points every week. Although I would argue giving us a couple of extra squad slots would’ve made that task even easier. With more slots, one would have to make less decisions on the marginal cash cows as you could just take them all and discard the poor-performing ones after three dates.

So if they’re giving us 44 trades, how is it going to be difficult to assemble that side? Well as we’ve seen in previous years, the game has opted to throw in a few “market corrections” to sap the value out of some options. Some examples:

  • Nathan Cleary (priced at $957,000, expected $897,000)

  • Adam Doueihi (priced at $771,000, expected $722,000)

  • Tom Trobjevic (priced at $638,000, expected $538,000)

  • Brandon Smith (priced at $585,000, expected $532,000)

  • Josh Schuster (priced at $479,000, expected $265,000)

  • Mitchell Kenny (priced at $426,000, expected $370,000)

  • Mitchell Dunn (priced at $372,000, expected $293,000)

Personally, I don’t have a major issue with the price corrections as they often have a reasonable basis for adjustment. For example, Cleary got sent-off which chipped at his average and similar for Doueihi (low-minute season debut) and Smith (hand injury in round 1 in 2nd minute). Others such as Kenny, Schuster and Dunn played smaller roles than they typically would.

I can completely understand coaches’ frustration in relation to these as occasionally the adjustments can be inconsistently applied. I like these adjustments as they will make it more difficult for coaches to prepare their round 1 side; it’s been a common complaint in previous seasons that everyone’s team “looks too similar”. With that list of players above, every veteran coach would’ve been licking their lips at the potential bargains on offer. With these adjustments, some of these players may not fit in the $10m cap which I think makes for a more dynamic game. In fairness to the game, there have also been some “market corrections” going the other way:

  • Zac Hosking (priced at $479,000, expected $712,000)

  • Lachlan Miller (priced at $426,000, expected $633,000)

  • Sean Russell (priced at $319,000, expected $586,000)

  • Izaac Thompson (priced at $319,000, expected $579,000)

  • Ronald Volkman (priced at $319,000, expected $501,000)

With these players listed above, they’ve received an adjustment because they played a small number of games in 2022. In previous years, the general rule was that any player that played nine games or less in a season would see a discount leading into the subsequent season. And in total, 26 of the 474 available players in the game have receiving a discount because of playing a small number of matches in 2022. And several of these players like Thompson will be of significant interest to coaches due to the discounts on offer.

The change to the bye round scoring is fascinating. Usually, coaches would aim for 7-8 solid core players that are or close to long-term keepers with some cheaper players as garnish to hit double figures. Or for those who went aggressive on a bye round would aim for 10-11 core players with 3-4 cheapies to push for a large rank gain. With the maximum of 13 scorers in these rounds, it really does highlight the need to acquire solid non-origin players that play at least 2 of these rounds so you don’t need to burn trades on short-term prospects. With 44 trades in total, the ability to indulge in luxury trades is at your disposal. In saying that, one can’t ignore the “minor” bye rounds in 14, 17 and 20 where three teams hit the brakes on top of any origin players that don’t back-up for their club sides.

Looking at the final change in 2023, the DPP updates have been shifted slightly. For me, this is a commonsense approach as it ensures the final DPP updates occur seven weeks before the season end (same as 2022). Whilst shifting the third update from round 12 to 13 has little impact, keeping the second update at round 6 is sensible. Given the number of players that will have played 3-4 positions in a different position to one they are available in Fantasy in, this needs to be reflected early in the season and round 6 seems a fair spot to do that. Of all the changes, I think this one is the least controversial of them all.

So that’s NRL Fantasy for 2023 covered, what about Talking League? We’re glad to announce that we will be providing our wonderful community with Podcasts from Monday the 9th of January. Be sure to join as we discuss each of the 17 clubs, cover each position and have our finger on the pulse with Around the Traps. For those who are more about the written content, you’ll be thrilled to know that we’ll have plenty of that available for you as well. The team are very excited about what we will be able to bring you in 2023 and appreciate all your support. Be sure to spend some time with your loved ones over the festive period, because come the new year – it’s NRL Fantasy time!


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