Welcome to The Mercato!



Welcome to Mercato, a new series by Talking League where we explore the strategy coaches will apply to their NRL Fantasy team in the Mercato (Transfer Market). Elements this series will cover include pre-season, early season as well as pre and post-bye round planning. Unlike most of the written offerings from Talking League, Mercato articles are in written in long-form. Much like our weekly podcasts, it is recommended that you load up on refreshments from 7-Eleven before taking the time to dive into the content!


As you can guess by the timing of this piece, today we’re going to be looking at the transition from your round 13 players into round 17. Usually in NRL Fantasy, the first bye round will be the bye round with the highest average number of players across the coaches with overall ambitions. This is because:

  • it’s easier for coaches to focus trades on it (such as keeping a cashie/mid-rangers until round 13 is over, preferring guns that play round 13 etc).

  • there is less of a need for players in this round to be part of your final team

  • coaches have more trades at their disposal compared to the later bye round.


And stats support this theory again; as coming into round 13 there were 13 players eligible to play with an ownership of 10% or higher, with the likes of Tom Starling, Adam Elliott and Viliame Kikau falling just short. Of these 13, 9 of them had a value of $530k or higher. In terms of round 17-eligible players, there are 16 with an ownership of 10% or higher although only 8 hold a value of $530k or higher meaning most of these higher ownership players are on the way out or rotting away in the emergencies (either way, not relevant). Granted, there may be more round 17-eligble players that cross the 10% barrier as we get closer, but it will only be those that shape up as keepers for the run home.


If we assume you fall into the bracket of loading up on Round 13 like the masses, the idea is to trade like a madman to maximise your round 17 numbers, right? Well, not quite. As we discussed above, your only round 17 players should be players that will be good enough for your best 18 for the run home or cash-outs that aid your looping potential, as any mid-rangers should be sold by then.


The timing of making these trades to get these round 17 guns is also important. Thankfully, the more dynamic nature of the trades system in 2022 can aid your timing. Previously, you could only perform four trades in round 13, 15, 17 and 18 but now you can make up to four trades in any round from round 13 onwards. This allows you to hold off on players that you want to make a last-minute call on and hold onto round 13 players that still have cash to make. A someone who got burned by buying Tohu Harris a couple of weeks before the round 17 bye in 2021, I think this is a great tweak from NRLF. With our new widened ability to trade, let’s go through each round 17 team and identify when it might be time to buy the players of interest.


Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

The team from the shire don’t possess an awful lot of premium fantasy talent. Assuming Nicho Hynes maintains a spot in NSW’s 18, Cameron McInnes appears to be the only gun on the roster. At $686k, McInnes is still great value and will be close to a must for coaches who don’t yet own the man with a smile like a Halloween pumpkin. Blayke Brailey is hovering around the 50 average however probably isn’t final 18 worthy when Cook and Grant are relevant. Siosifa Talakai could be a nice wildcard if he drops into the high 400s/low 500s before round 17, otherwise there may be a cashout or two that could be a potential looper in rounds 18 onwards (looking at you, Braydon Trindall).


Melbourne Storm

Much like their round 17 opponents, there’s probably not a lot you want to acquire from this team. With Harry Grant and Cameron Munster at Origin, Ryan Papenhuyzen is the next best fantasy asset; although with a complex recovery I’d be very hesitant on him until you see at least two full matches from him. Jahrome Hughes is interesting although averages less than 50 despite scoring more than a try every second game; he’s one I would wait until round 16 or 17 to sign up. The wildcard is Brandon Smith, who could benefit from Grant’s injury worries however you probably want to see something from him in round 14 or 15 to warrant a purchase.


Newcastle Knights

The team from the Hunter do pose a couple of interesting fantasy prospects. As someone who started with David Klemmer and had to sell in round 3, it pains me to see that he’s averaged over 60 and piled on nearly $200k since his return in round 6. I expected him to be an offloading machine in the slower game and well, look at him go. He’s a fine premium option for those with a large team value. One for the watchlist is Mitchell Barnett, who is still sub-$600k and would be an incredible DPP option if either edge slot opens up for him. Given the injury history of Frizell and Fitzgibbon, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a buy in round 17.


South Sydney Rabbitohs

Unfortunately, my team has been on a downward trend this season which has carried into the fantasy relevance of the team. With bluechips Damien Cook and Cameron Murray in the origin arena, there’s not much to poke a stick at. Jai Arrow isn’t a final 18 worthy player, and whilst Campbell Graham is the fourth best averaging centre this year you’d much rather aim to have the two OOPs Matt Burton and Euan Aitken as your CTR pairing (despite being round 13 players).


Wests Tigers

At the time of writing, there’s not one player for the Tigers who averages 50 or higher, not even one. Whilst that would be a nice mic drop on the team the Bunnies put to the sword in round 12, there is a bit to talk about. Both Joe Ofahengaue and Alex Twal are priced about that 50avg mark so don’t present value as long-term keepers, Jackson Hastings is a question mark after suffering nerve damage in his foot and Luciano Leilua has had a down year. Stefano Utoikamanu is close to bottoming out and may be a nice 19th man should he find some minutes down the stretch. Arguably the most intriguing asset on the Tigers roster is Luke Garner; who with his newly-found CTR DPP could be an interesting budget-friendly POD at $492k. Will he keep starting in the back row and playing out the 80 minutes? I’d genuinely have more chance of giving you the lotto numbers than answering that correctly.


Parramatta Eels

Comfortably the most important team in this round, the Eels benefit from having origin-calibre players that either born in Lomasland or have Nathan Cleary and Harry Grant ahead of them in the pecking order. Isaiah Papali’I is the headline act at $913k and is a fine pickup at any time. Dylan Brown ($711k) and Mitchell Moses ($692k) are also tidy acquisitions, Moses is no rush given his decent BE. Brown on the other hand is under an injury cloud but the week off will sort him out; there’s value to be had on a player averaging 57.5 at 6 in 2022. Reed Mahoney as I said earlier this year would revert to his higher defensive loads once he gets a few games under his belt post shoulder surgery. That he has, averaging 53.3 since round 7 and is a reliable option for coaches trying to juggle the tricky Hooker position; although like Moses his BE situation buys you some time. Will Penisini is a solid pure CTR, a hold for anyone that has rode him since round 1.


Brisbane Broncos

The years of slam dunking on the Broncos being average are in the rear-view mirror for now. Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan are in the origin arena, leaving Adam Reynolds as the main premium Bronco for round 17. At $803k, Reynolds is priced fairly but given his latest knock I’d be hesitant rushing out to get him given he’s in pain management mode. Should he be moving freely around round 16, he will be worth a look then. Selwyn Cobbo has also been drafted into Origin, meaning the only player of interest being Ezra Mam should he keep Tyson Gamble out of the team. At $325k, he’s still cheap enough to be considered a cash-out that should boost your round 17 numbers. I think he’ll play himself into being first choice whilst Tyson Gamble recovers and thus will be an excellent option as bench depth.


St George-Illawarra Dragons

Like the Tigers, the Dragons boast no players who average 50 or higher. Expect the Ghost Corby to disappear from the pod near this round so he can avoid talking about this rabble. Ben Hunt is their best at 47.4 and he will have origin commitments. Zac Lomax is a top-tier CTR but as mentioned in the Bunnies section, there are two clear OOPs in this position so I probably wouldn’t chase him. Josh McGuire could get himself into a position to score some cheeky 50s; he could also karate kick a tanked-up Cowboys supporter that gives him a bit of “friendly” advice and land himself a season ban.


So today, we’ve brushed over all the round teams with 17 with the effectiveness only matched by Mark Nicholls’ comb. Remember, the second bye round is about quality rather than quantity. You want most of these scoring players to be part of your final 18/19, so your trades can be spared for picking up the likes of Cleary, Grant, Cook, DCE, Haas etc. It’s also worth remembering that with the ability to make four trades each round, you can pace yourself and time your run into round 17. For more bye round preparation content, be sure to check out Talking League’s Tuesday and Sunday Shows.


But until next time on Mercato, it’s BABY BYE BYE BYE, BYE BYE!