Ever since Tom Starling burst onto the scene in 2020 with his scintillating running game, coaches have been begging Sticky to unleash him ever since. Some coaches were quick to take the punt last year after the reported falling out between Stuart and Hodgson, but unfortunately that shut quicker than the Raiders premiership window. We look destined to have Starling next year with Hodgson moving on to the Eels, but is there value in Starling this year?
The short version is, I don’t know.
The longer version. His points per minute (ppm) is phenomenal for a hooker at 0.80 in his 40+ minute appearances which puts him in the same bracket as Damien Cook or Harry Grant. Priced at only 34 points, Starling would need some where in the range of 50 to 55mins each to week to have the value to justify him as a buy. The big question is what is his role going to be? Starling played a fairly consistent role from round 17 to round 21. He would start on the bench before coming on after 25mins and play the remaining 55mins at hooker with Hodgson moving to lock, a role he played fairly commonly in 2020 as well. It seemed like he was going to do the same in round 22 and likely the remainder of the season before suffering a broken jaw.
This is where the value lies for Starling. If we were to see Starling play a similar role off the bench there should be 10 points of value here. The problem is, how much do you trust Ricky Stuart? For me it is very little. Sticky has routinely said he doesn’t like trials and he hasn’t tipped his hand at all in the trials with Starling not touching the field in the first half of the Manly trial before playing the entirety of the 2nd half and posting a very solid 34pts. There is a narrative that you can certainly make in that Starling is the starting hooker of the future and Hodgson is on the way out so it certainly would seem plausible to see him in that 55min role once again.
The current crop of hooking starting options for fantasy are quite thin outside of Randall with those in consideration having their own question marks like Starling. Grant is suspended round 1, Paix has a poor ppm and could be a trap, Hetherington also had a poor ppm in 2021 (though has shown improvement in the trials) and is also no sure thing to get the minutes required. A lot of these options really come down to your overall risk tolerance and I think that tolerance needs to be quite high with Starling on the chance he’s only playing 30 minutes off the bench. Even if that is the case it wouldn’t surprise me to see him pop up as a popular buy later in the season if Hodgson gets injured or if the finals hopes for the Raiders diminish and Ricky opts for a change. For round 1 I think he’s too risky of a proposition unless we get more information before kick off. That said, I wish the 3% who currently own him luck because you certainly deserve it and I may still join you if I get a rush of blood before round 1.