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The Mercato - the final form awaits!

And welcome back to the second episode of The Mercato! In this edition, we will be having a look at the transition from round 17 into your final squad and some of the key elements to making said transition.

It’s worth pointing out that this article won’t delve too deep into the players that you should be trading in for round 17. These players were covered in depth in the first edition of The Mercato, as well as across our audio and other written content. What we’re looking at today is that transition from what your team looks like coming into round 16, to what it should look like in round 19 and onwards. Of course, part of that journey does involve the round 17 relevant players, but isn’t the focus of this piece.

Firstly, let’s tackle what everyone started the season with the same number of as everyone else: trades. Every coach was given 32 at the start of the season, and will also receive another 4 before round 20. Whilst 4 ‘extra’ trades may seem like more ammo to upgrade your team with; you should only think about these trades being extra help to deal with any extended absences in the final six rounds. In the last quarter of the regular season, the following situations will likely occur that will force you to trade:

  • A player gets a season-ending suspension or injury.

  • Teams that are out of finals contention may send players who need surgery in the off-season to have that procedure before the end of the season.

  • Teams that are out of finals contention may elect to limit the involvement of players who will not be at the club next season to provide opportunities to young players.

  • Team that are in finals contention may choose to rest players or be extra cautious with players that suffer concussions or short-term injuries, causing them to miss more games than they usually would.

With all these scenarios likely to impact fantasy relevant players, you will need more than 4 trades to cover them so any trades that you can hold on top of these 4 will be key. Here’s a general guide on your approach to using trades to boost your round 17 numbers:

  • 5 or less trades – conserve mode, only trade for final upgrade and hold the rest for injury cover

  • 6 to 10 trades – feel free to use 1-2 trades to boost your round 17 numbers

  • 11 or more trades – go as aggressive as you like for round 17, climb those ranks!

After looking at trades, let’s dive into what makes a good final team. Firstly, to make a good final team you will need at least $13.5m (including ITB) in team value which most teams inside the top 4,000 ranks will have or be very close to. If you’re well below this team value, a lot of the rest of the article may not be as applicable as you will need to opt for cheaper players than the top tier guns to build your final team. But have no fear, as there will be an instalment of The Mercato where we will look at how we can analyse our seasons and how we can improve for 2023. You can expect that this piece on season reviews will be published between rounds 21 to 23.

But back to discussing our final teams! With your $13.5m+ in team value, you are looking to build a squad of 21 players containing the following:

  • 17 guns with at least an 18th man of similar quality.

  • 1-2 players as bench depth (usually 19th and 20th man)

  • 1 Cheapie (A looper or emerging last minute cash cow)

When we’re looking at guns for our final team, it’s not an overly complex conversation. We want 18 players that are the best or as close to the best in their respective positions. For most positions, the floor of what we want these players to average is 55, with the outside backs likely to be a bit lower. Across these 18 players, we probably want to have coverage that enables us to have at least one player to cover the non-outside back positions (HOK/MID/EDG/HLF). For most teams, this should be achievable given the large amount of quality DPP MID/EDG players and quality players in the HOK and HLF should be at attainable prices in the coming weeks after origin 3. For players who have a team value exceeding $14m, you should be holding 19 players of gun quality.

The players that form your bench depth will likely reflect the weaknesses that your best 18 have in terms of positional coverage. Given the high focus on the positions that aren’t the outside backs, Tolutau Koula shapes up as a fantastic option. Koula covers up as a DPP CTR/WFB and is a player most coaches should still own (around 80% of the top 5,000) meaning he shouldn’t require a precious trade. For non-Koula owners, Dane Gagai will be a similar price and shares the DPP CTR/WFB tag and can explode on his day. Brandon Smith aka Cheese or as I prefer to call him, the “Mouse Trap” will also be a popular selection given his DPP does cover the tricky HOK position. Whilst he doesn’t have great record in 2022, picking him up before round 17 as a “premium” cash-down could be a fruitful gamble as he’ll likely get a big-minute role in round 24 and/or 25 when the Storm rest a few key guns. There are a few other players in this category, but they’re probably only worth having in your final team if you already own them. Of course, SPP players can also be relevant in this space.

And finally, your 21st player. Ideally, this player is the cheapest possible player available to purchase whenever you bring them in. There are different approaches across the fantasy community in terms of how you treat the 21st position on your roster.

A very common method is to buy a pure cash-out that has no chance of ever making an appearance in the rest of the 2022 season. If you do decide to head down this path, I would be looking to buy a player from the following clubs (in order of effectiveness):

  • Tigers (play no earlier than 5:30pm Saturday from round 17)

  • Sharks (play no earlier than 5:30pm Saturday from round 19)

  • Knights (aside from round 19, play no earlier than 5:30pm Saturday from round 18)

  • Dragons (play no earlier than 5:30pm Saturday from round 20)

  • Raiders (play no earlier than 3pm Saturday from round 17)

Given the four best of the five suggested are round 17 relevant teams, the more common strategy to apply is buying a base price player that plays in round 17 before returning to obscurity. The finest example of this was in 2018, when a young $210k Jarome Luai smashed a 98 against the Warriors when deputising for Nathan Cleary (he even kicked 6 goals!) This strategy will only be applicable however if a base price-player gets a game in round 17, which whether this will happen is a coin flip at the time of writing.

Personally, I would try avoiding either of these two strategies as you will find down the stretch that most weeks you will organically have a red dot due to injury or suspension (especially if you are low on trades). For most teams, the 21st player will be a “break glass in case of emergency” player that may only be capable of averaging between 20 and 30 that is already on the roster. For others, it could a new cash cow that hits the market once a key player is ruled out for the season. Last season, players like Jeremiah Nanai, Toby Sexton, Will Penisini, Matt Feagai and Izack Tago were nice options for those with trades still available. This year, Ronald Volkman could be that man although he’s far from a sure thing and most teams don’t lack HLF options further up their squad. All in all, you don’t want to be spending too many of your sparce trades on your weakest position in the squad.

So that’s all for the second edition of The Mercato by Talking League. Unless any major trends appear in NRL Fantasy in the next 3-4 weeks, expect the next edition to be a special season review piece where we break down how to improve your NRL Fantasy rank in 2023. Until then, enjoy a time-out from NRL Fantasy over the standalone rep round!


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