You may be sitting there saying to yourself… “Mark, why are you looking at Nathan Cleary? He is a gun and the clear best fantasy option for 2022!” And while I believe you are right, the answer is simple – “Why not? Are you afraid of the results?”.
2021 saw an unprecedented style of NRL, where the good teams consistently put the bad teams to the sword in a way like never before. The Panthers scored 31.5 points per game with Cleary in the side, which was good enough for 3rd in the NRL in 2022, yet eclipsed the best team in 2020 by 4 points per game and their own record breaking 2020 season by almost 5 points per game. No doubt about it, the 6 again rule had the effect it was meant to, and the attacking players like Cleary ran riot.
Cleary himself managed 10 tries in 16 games, a huge uplift on his previous best try scoring rate. In a closer look, Cleary had 4 tries in the final 7 minutes of games, often beating an exhaused defense that was behind by 30+ points in the dying minutes to take what was an already great fantasy score to a 100+ monster. Without those 4 tries, Cleary would still have been at a 38% try scoring rate, which is absolutely elite for a half – for context, Clearys career try scoring rate in the halves before 2021 was 36% and it rose to 63% in 2021.
With tries come Line Breaks and Tackle Busts. Within these 4 tries, there was a T/O tackle, 2 line breaks and 7 tackle busts, which totals up to 60 fantasy points in the new scoring. Applied across the season, this takes Cleary from an 81.3 average to a 77.5 average. Big whoop, still the best option in fantasy.
The other factor is that Cleary is the goal kicker, and the Panthers scored about a try extra per game, which comes with the goal kicking territory – big whoop, down to 75.5 points per game. He also ran for 85, 90 and 90 metres per game in 2018-20 before exploding to 115 per game in 2021, another result of the rule changes – oh well still 73 points per game. Lets also tack on the increased kick metres due to teams getting pinned in their own end (admittedly not often the Panthers so lets say 0.5PPG kick metres) and… wait Mark… stop it!
In addition to scoring 4 of the extra tries per game for the Panthers, theres also assists that go with that. In the tries he didnt score, you have to imagine he has a hand in most of the assists. Cleary massively improved on his career best 2020 numbers from 85% try assist rate to 120% (1.5FPTS) and 0.6 Line Break Assist to 0.9 Line Break Assist (0.5FPTS) and bing bang boom you are sitting at an average of about 70 fantasy points per game.
Is he going to average 70 per game? Probably not, Cleary is an absolute superstar and a freak in terms of his combination of Finesse, Strength and Instincts. He is comfortably the best player in the NRL right now. That said, there is absolutely a floor here of low 70s. We all saw the ceiling last year, and as the only bloke who didn’t roster Cleary I know he just finds a way to accumulate points, but he COULD well also be a massive overpay and a trap.
I won’t sit here and tell you not to start with him, a floor of 70 is still absolutely top shelf undisputed #1 status, but you can absolutely make the argument to fade him in 2022.