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Writer's Room - 2023 Season Preview

And welcome to the Season Preview from The Writer’s Room. Over the off-season, Talking League bolstered the writing ranks with the addition of Sean Kaufman (SK). Sean joins the established Writer’s Room that already contained Jason Robson (JR), Jake Olive (JO), Riley Connor (RC) and JWarrior (JW). The boys were asked some questions about the season ahead, and had this to say.

Who do you support, and why?

JR: Growing up in the Riverina, I had no idea about Rugby League until I was 9. I could’ve easily ended up supporting the Storm or Raiders who were my “local” teams. My parents were Eels and Rabbitohs fans, but I sided with Dad and jumped on the Cardinal & Myrtle.

JO: Growing up in Central Queensland I’ve always supported the Cowboys. The 2005 season with Thurston and Bowen taking them to their first ever grand final was the reason I started supporting them.

RC: Coming from a rural background in Queensland, I always supported the Cowboys. As a former halfback, I particularly enjoyed watching Thurston and Bowen combine on a Saturday night at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

JW: When I was a kid I followed the Bulldogs because I'm from Canterbury, New Zealand and with Terry Lamb they were great. Once the Warriors came in it was a no brainer.

SK: I haven’t really had a team I passionately support, always more content to appreciate good footy but always had a soft spot for Manly and the Titans, but with The Dolphins the new kids on the block and living in Brisbane I have decided to dive on in and be a fully fledged Phins fan, season membership and all.

Your fantasy article series/es in 2023, what can we expect?

JR: I will just be focusing on The Mercato this year. Expect a long-form article at least once per fortnight (until round 23) as I look at the emerging and relevant trends throughout the NRL Fantasy season.

JO: I will be looking to bring back Fast Five again for 2023. The article focuses on analysing and providing my opinion on popular trade in targets for each round.

RC: I will be creating a series titled The Schedule series in 2023. It will be a long-form article published at least once per fortnight (right through to round 27) focussing on trade usage and the navigation of byes.

JW: I will be detailing the winners and losers of the TL league highlighting good trades and mocking the stupid ones.

SK: I will be bringing in The Pyramid to fans in 2023. It will be looking at some early team structure and then as key junctions in fantasy arise working our way up to the pointy end of the pyramid.

2023 Premiers?

JR: I can’t go past the Sharks. I think last year they were ahead of schedule finishing 2nd on the ladder but didn’t really show up against the big teams when it mattered. With another off-season under Fitzgibbon, I think they’ll handle those games better and go all the way.

JO: I’m not a huge risk taker, so my Premiership predictions are usually fairly conservative. I’m predicting Penrith can make it a 3rd straight Premiership. Yes they have lost a lot of talent in Korosau and Kikau this season, however with Cleary, Luai, and Yeo still at the top of their game, I still think they have the cattle to win it again.

RC: I do not want to sound biased but I believe the Cowboys can go all the way in 2023. After being one of the big improvers in 2022, the pain of a preliminary final defeat and another tough preseason under Payten academic and professional approach will drive a culture focussed on discipline and success. Their first trial against the Dolphins proved they have a next man up mentality, with depth in a number of key positions.

JW: Matty Johns states the best halfback has the best chance and I believe there is still enough supporting cast to get the 3 peat done for the Panthers.

SK: I think the Roosters will have a bounce back season and end their year being premiers. The addition of the Cheese will be massive for their spine and injuries permitting, they will make a great run at the back end of the year, as Robbo always has them firing regardless of the team they put out. The overall development of Joseph Suaali’i in the centres will also add more strikepower to the team though he may take a few weeks to get comfortable.

2023 Wooden Spoon?

JR: As much as it pains me as a season ticket holder, the Dolphins will take it. They definitely will win some games this year, but this foundation season will involve blooding a lot of young players with 2024 and 2025 in mind.

JO: This is an easy one for me, I think the Warriors are going to struggle this season. SJ is far from the player he used to be, and I think they just lack talent all across the park. Their outside backs are going to be conceding a lot of tries again this season.

RC: It is hard to go past the Dragons. A lack of recruitment in addition to injuries and external noise surrounding the club, players and coach meant for an interrupted preseason. I’m expecting the Dragons will continuously chop and change players through the season looking for the best combinations. Everything rests on the shoulders of Ben Hunt.

JW: I want to say Cowboys just to get back at Jake but they won't be that bad, this is too easy Dragons one of the worst squads, Ben Hunt can't do everything.

SK: Looking at overall squad strength and depth, it will be a tough year to be a Dolphins fan. They have an aging forward pack and dont have the strikepower in their backline to score points at any stage in the game. Teams like the Dragons and Warriors at least have players who can win a game on their own, but the Dolphins will struggle. I wouldn't expect a win until the Origin Period.

Biggest shock?

JR: With a somewhat weak draw leading into origin, I reckon we’ll see the Titans be right in finals contention all season. How they fare in the run of death between rounds 24 and 26 (Sharks, Panthers, Storm) will see them either make the eight or just miss out.

JO: I can see the Titans being a top 8 side this year. The addition of Foran and Verrils in the spine I believe will simplify their game plan and make them play more ‘percentage’ football. I am also liking the combination of Boyd and Fifita on an edge.

RC: After the high of 2022, I see the Eels struggling to make the top 8. With their first five games against the Storm, Sharks, Manly, Panthers and Roosters, I see the Eels starting on the back foot. Games against the Roosters in round 25 and Panthers in round 26 before the bye in round 27 means they will not be able to control their destiny, particularly if caught up in a mid table log jam.

JW: Cowboys and Canberra both miss the 8 with Bulldogs and Tigers both squeezing in.

SK: With a strong recruitment drive in 2023 and the return of club favourites I think the Tigers are ready for a big push in 2023 and will make the top 8. I don't think the service that Korisau will give from dummy half can be understated and the addition of Papalii, Bateman and Klemmer in the forwards will allow them to get on the front foot for Doueihi and Brooks to get across the advantage line.

Dally M?

JR: I think Hynes will get some origin involvement and come back to the pack this year. With the Bulldogs on track to win a lot more in 2023, I’m going to back Matt Burton in to shine in those wins and pick up enough points to win the Dally M.

JO: Similar to my Premiership pick, I think we may see a back-to-back Dally M medal for Nicho Hynes. The Sharks are on track to have another really strong season, and when the Sharks win, Nicho is usually involved in everything.

RC: With another soft draw in 2023, Cleary having a lock on the NSW number 7 jersey and Burton providing greater utility value from the bench, I can see Hynes going back to back. Freddy has shown he will not pull players out of club football if they are 18th man or part of the extended squad.

JW: I called it early SJ contract year but reality is starting to set in and I will now say Burton.

SK: With a very soft draw up until round 20 and finding himself in his favoued and best position I think AJ Brimson takes out the Dally M. With Keiran Foran and Tanah Boyd in the spine Brimson should get plenty of space on the edges and he is a constant threat around the middle ready to take any half chance or offload all the way.

Most exciting Fantasy blackbook option from trials?

JR: I really like the look of Kayal Iro. I hadn’t seen an awful lot of him before the trials, but looks like a strong ball runner and the ability to play eyes-up footy that could see him slot in anywhere across the outside backs.

JO: He may be a long way down the pecking order at the Titans, however if Keano Kini manages to find himself in first grade at fullback this season, he’ll be going straight into my team. He looks to be a tackle break machine, some of the best footwork and support play I have seen since RTS.

RC: Harrison Graham looked outstanding in the first 25 minutes of the Dolphins round 1 trial before going off the field with a knee injury. He registered 20 fantasy points, comprising of 16 tackles for no misses and 29 run metres that also included 1 tackle bust.

JW: Franklin Pele beast of a human who also had game presence. Should get a bench spot as TPJ missing start of season.

SK: Kaeo Weekes was extremely impressive at fullback in the second week of the trials. For such a young player he has a great game awareness and understanding, which allows him to constantly make good decisions. With Tommy Turbo’s injury concerns he could find himself with good game time in 2023, and the potential to play five-eighth could see him slot there as well.

Favourite POD?

JR: I like the look at Jamal Fogarty at 0.47%. At $723k (priced at 50.5), he’s not exactly cheap but a very solid all-rounder that has all the boxes ticked as a HLF (goal kicker, good in-play kicker, ball-runner, playmaker, defender) with the added bonus of not being a rep player. A round 8 bye is very manageable and he’ll give you scores in two of the major bye rounds (13, 19). I don’t think I’ll have the room to fit him in, but he’ll do very well in 2023.

JO: At 4% ownership due to the large amount of value EDG options, I think David Fifita could be a great POD. Currently he is priced at an average of 53, however when playing 70+ minutes on an edge last season he produced an average of 62. Being a contract year for him and finally playing outside of his mate Tannah Boyd, I think David could be in the top 2 EDG players this season.

RC: Erin Clark looked absolutely outstanding in his new role at lock. At 594k (priced at 41.5), he is a mid range option that fantasy coaches would need to take a gamble on. In a three game sample in 2022 as well as the Titans two preseason trials, Clark proved he has a fantasy relevant game when playing at lock. With an unfavourable bye schedule (byes in round 5, 13 and 16), he needs to be one you grab for round 1 or avoid. At nearly the same price to the Cheese, fantasy coaches may struggle to have these two mid range options in their teams especially considering they are projected to have identical dual positioning tags post round 1 TLT.

JW: I have two, one from my team Damien Cook 4% for a Hooker that averaged 66 last season he is a reliable player that you will get what you pay for, but uf you think over 12 weeks he will score 792 whilst grant will score 660 in the first 12 weeks based on averages. Kelma Tuilagi with a 2% ownership he looks like he has great value.

SK: A player I have been high on all off-season is Wayde Egan. Priced at 582k, he is currently in 1.59% of teams and could be the beneficiary of some extended minutes around a higher quality pack. When playing over 60 minutes he averages 46.2, which in a vacuum doesnt seem like he will have much value, but he has played with some considerably weak teams. With Dylan Walker the 14 and Andrew Webster having high raps on Egan as a player I could see him reaching up to 70-75 minute mark and having the opportunity for more attacking stats with the chance to finally show his exceptional running game.

Lesson you’re taking from 2022 and implementing in 2023?

JR: For me, it’s a matter of keeping it simple. When it comes to cash cows, I’m taking all the high-ownership players that have decent prospects. The past two seasons I’ve tried to get too cute in this area, and have started too slow and ranked poorly as a result.

JO: This year I’m going to try and be a bit more patient with my mid-range value players. Last year I made the terrible decision to punt Matt Burton after 3 rounds, who turned his form around to be one of the best CTR options in the game.

RC: Give players three dates and make sure a sample informs a smart decision. Picking up Hetherington (no sample) and not finding a way to bring in Starling (proven gun when starting at hooker) last season halted my cash generation and overall point scoring. Prioritise quick cash generation over slow burning cows, not being afraid to go with the pack and play it safe particularly early on in the season.

JW: No more playing centre roulette. Get a gun and save trades. Let's hope I pick the right one.

SK: I found myself regaining alot of ground in 2022, because I started the year anti-podding players for no reason besides ‘everyone else has them’ meaning I didnt start with Tago or King and was immediately behind the 8-ball. This year I am getting value options with high-ownership and looking to get an elite-level player from round 1.

And that’s all for the lads until TLT, when it will be all gas no brakes as we all make a million trades before the first lockout. Keep your eyes posted to the blog as we give you plenty of content throughout the season!


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