Welcome to the first edition of ‘The Pyramid’ in the 2023 NRL Fantasy Season.
This series will provide NRL fantasy coaches with ways to initially build their teams around a few key pillars and then continue to progress through the season as we build towards ‘the pointy end.’
Coming into Round 1 TLT there are three popular strategies that fantasy coaches are building their teams around and there is also a more risky approach that fantasy coaches could take with the ultimate risk reward. The first thing to consider when building your team is the salary cap. Set at $10 million to start the 2023 season, finding value within the salary cap is crucial to ensure coaches build their team value up to $14 million as the season progresses and planning on how you look to build team value will be crucial early in the 2023 season.
A new variable for fantasy coaches to consider in 2023 is bye rounds and extended bye periods. I won't dive too deeply into this as Riley has covered it excellently in his series ‘The Schedule,’ but the main premise is to ensure you don't have too many players from one team (2-3 Max) to start your year and always plan trades with byes and bye periods in mind.
When making these observations around building teams it is important to note that a lot of popular cashies and value options will be factored into these teams. Players like J’maine Hopgood, Luke Garner, Brandon Smith and Will Warbrick, who should be in most people's teams will be factored in, with alternate structure around popular captaincy choices being the main directive.
The first option for fantasy coaches is to build around the potential Fantasy GOAT in Nathan Cleary. Prior to the introduction of bye rounds Cleary was a must-have and legitimate set-and-forget captaincy option, with averages of 72.0, 92.8 and 62.7 in the past three seasons. The introduction of bye rounds in 2023 however does have some doubt in the ability to comfortably pick Nathan Cleary as your primary fantasy asset. With Penrith having a bye in round 3, the decision to start with Nathan Cleary would also require a more top heavy approach to start the season to ensure you can maximise your points across early bye rounds.
With a limited capacity to build team value so early in the season and the desire to be stringent with trades early in the season it will be important to select a strong second captaincy option around Nathan Cleary, and then looking to find more value based picks as the salary cap tightens. Players like Harry Grant, Payne Haas, Joseph Tapine, Reece Robson and for risk-tolerant coaches David Fifita would be a great vice-captain option and early season captain when Cleary has a bye, with players like Tapine and Robson, more heavily favoured due to being ineligible or unlikely to play origin, saving more trades come the Origin period.
Another important consideration when building your team around Cleary is the inclusion of a second keeper-level half. Cleary having an early bye could be detrimental in overall ambitions if you don't have a second half capable of 55-plus point outings, as many teams will have Tanah Boyd as depth when Cleary has his Round 3 byes. Similar to having a strong vice-captain, a strong halves partner for Cleary needs to be someone who is unlikely or ineligible to play origin and also with a strong origin period draw. Players like Adam Doueihi, Mitch Moses and Jamal Fogarty are all excellent options here with strong attacking upside, good bye/origin coverage and favourable draws.
Taking into consideration the above a strong fantasy team to build around Nathan Cleary could look like the following, as it provides early captaincy cover in Tapine and Robson who could both produce 60-plus scores and also provides a solid halves scorer in Doueihi, both early and over the origin period.
The second pillar to build a team around is Cameron Murray and it works off the idea of total points scored, late byes and increased cash for early value. Jason broke down why Murray is such a great captaincy and fantasy option in his ‘player in focus’ and ‘The Mercato’ and building your team around him piggybacks on many of his ideas.
The initial intrigue around Cameron Murray is his relatively late bye compared to Cleary and Hynes. The Rabbits first bye is in Round 16, though Murray is expected to be in Origin camp and would miss Round 13. Across the first 12 rounds Cleary or Hynes would have to average 5 points per game more to match Murray in total points, assuming they are all captained and Murray averages 60ppg. At 50-80k cheaper than Cleary or Hynes these additional points at a cheaper price point cant be passed up.
The decision to build around Murray would also allow for coaches to pick up more concrete options for guns early in the season, and following the same approach around late byes could provide early success in the season and build solid foundations for overall players. The selection of players like Reece Robson, Payne Haas, and Matt Burton who all have their first bye between Round 13 and 16 would give fantasy coaches great options and save trades over the start of the year, instead of accommodating for players that have early byes.
Selecting Murray would also provide coaches with an intriguing option of selecting a set and forget centre early in the 2023 season which can also save trades in the long run. In 2022, the centre position was extremely volatile resulting in trades being wasted on a position that provided relatively reduced returns. With the increased cash from selecting Murray, coaches could look to get a gun in the centres in the likes of Holmes, Staggs or Farnworth (Manu is too expensive and value lies over the Origin period). The selection of Staggss or Farnworth is ideal as the Broncos have their first bye in Round 15 and neither will play Origin meaning either player should be in teams from Round 1-27.
The decision to build around Murray can provide coaches with a team similar to the outline below. With many players having byes post Round 6 this gives coaches the ability to build team value and save trades, provided they are fortunate in their cash cow and value options.
The third approach in building your team is going dual-wield and having two uber-guns in your starting teams. The uber-guns in this case being the aforementioned Cleary and Murrary. This approach combats the predicament of Nathan Cleary’s early bye by having the potential third best captaincy option in Cameron Murray already in your team to assist in holding rank in Round 3.
This approach is extremely top heavy and would see 18% of your salary cap held up in two players so early on, with the cash spent being limited, not only in its potential to build a balanced team, but also the ability to make money off the cash spent as Murray and Cleary are fully priced. Similar to starting with just Cleary, it is important to find a second gun half to assist with the Round 3, but this may have to come in cheaper options such as Matt Burton, Sam Walker and Jackson Hastings.
This approach will require a greater tolerance to some risky mid-range players. With a substantial amount of cash being used by Murray and Cleary, point and subsequent cash-generation will need to come from guys that are priced in the awkward 400k-700k range. Players like Wayde Egan, Egan Butcher, Tevita Tatola and Teig Wilton could be interesting options at this price point. They are all players with potential to transform into gun players this year and approach a 50 point average. Adversely, the risk associated with them either holding steady in their price point or losing value is one to be mindful of, and with trades being at a premium around byes, adequate research to decide on these mid-rangers is crucial.
The decision to go heavy on Murray and Cleary may also result in adverse results around the WFB and CTR positions. With a large portion of the cap being spent around HLF and MID players, the CTR and WFB will be populated to cheaper options, and though may present value they also have imperative risk around their job security. Players like Tommy Talau, Paul Alamoti and Izaac Thompson will comprise most team layouts in this approach but all have low-medium job security and will be difficult to move considering they are at a near basement price. Additionally, Will Warbrick and Alofiana Khan-Pereira provide excellent early value but could find themselves playing reserve grade once both teams are back to full strength.
Taking all these factors into consideration the following team could be built that accommodates for the early bye with Cleary and gives coaches good mid range options in hope they are long team keepers.
The final approach for fantasy coaches should be considered the ‘pacifist’ approach. This approach requires very structured planning around the team while also having luck in identifying cash cows and provides extreme risk that could see coaches fall behind very quickly and struggle to claw back rankings, The pacifist approach does not carry any of the three previous outlined players and looks to build high quality squad depth across the 21 players to ensure that bye rounds are adequately covered.
The first thing to consider in this approach is to find 2-3 players who could average 60 plus points while being close or under 800k. Players like Adam Doueihi, Joe Tapine and Reuben Cotter should be at the top of this list. All three of these players had averages above 60 when filtering to their expected role or position in 2023, and would all be captaincy options across the early rounds. Doueihi and Tapine also have little or no likelihood of playing Origin and provide quality scoring during Rounds 13-19.
The second thing to consider when taking this approach is identifying what mid range fantasy assets will provide the most value over an extended period. Players like Wayde Egan, Teig Wilton and Kalyn Ponga are all priced between 500k-600k and could all build towards an 50 point average and be set in coaches’ teams for an extended time in 2023. When considering these players it is important to identify whether they have had change in role (Wilton), minutes (Egan) or opportunity (Ponga) between 2022 and 2023, with these changes the ultimate indicator to fantasy success.
The final aspect to consider is a generally accepted facet to fantasy success and that is finding the right cheapies that will gain cash early and funnel into more cashies throughout the season. Cashies typically sit at the 300k price point and below but considering this approach has chosen to save money at the top end, cashies should even be considered up to 400k. Though it is not considered good practice to have players worth more than 250k in your reserves, the bye rounds should change this thinking as coaches may look for quality scorers consistently as players miss rounds due to the bye.
With this approach players like Stefano Utoikamanu and Jackson Ford may find themselves as a 18/19 man in Round 1 but as the season progresses their potential scores of 40 will be more valuable then scores of 20-30 you may find in many 230k-250k players. The thing to remember in this approach is value is everything and the ability to build a team like below is one fantasy coaches should consider if they are willing to take a risk and work towards consistent scoring over an extended period.
N.B.. Originally there was a discussion around Nicho Hynes in this article. But with Nicho Hynes missing Round 1, it is strongly advised that fantasy coaches do not select Hynes in their round 1 team. If you are of strong belief he is worth holding for a round to save a trade in some capacity it is imperative to have two strong VC options with suggestions being Jmaine Hopgood or Payne Haas as a VC due to early matchups and strong fantasy pedigree. Having a strong 18th man would also be beneficial with Hynes to miss Round 1, with the ability to use him as a looper if not given the ‘C,’ as illustrated below.
That concludes the base of our fantasy pyramid and as the 2023 season progresses you should expect to see ‘The Pyramid’ as we approach key components in the Fantasy timeline, with a focus on providing multiple approaches to the upcoming periods while working towards the pointy end of the year whether it be H2H finals or overall glory.
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