Six games (exactly one quarter) into their NRL season, and the average punter still has absolutely no idea what the Cowboys rotation is going to be on a weekly basis. It hasn’t helped that there have been a steady stream of injuries so far, but lets unpack it and see what we know and what we still have yet to find out. This goes without saying, but all numbers are +/- a minute or two to allow for actual substitution opportunities.
Starting with what we know, we know that Reece Robson and Jake Granville will split the 80 minutes available at Hooker, with Payten operating purely on a “gut feel” basis. If the game is close like last night, Robson plays more minutes or even the full 80. If the Cowboys get out to a lead, or “need a spark”, Granville will get his opportunity. Granville also is there to cover the backline, with him playing both centre and fullback in 2021 in cover.
Payten showed us he is perfectly happy to leave his good players on the field and have multiple guys play 0 minutes as long as the job is getting done, which tells us a lot about his mindset about the players outside his top tier of forwards.
Secondly, at least so far, Jeremiah Nanai is on the right edge for 80 minutes. As 19 year old big minute forwards tend to do, Nanai is going to make errors, miss tackles, drop in and out of games and take time to develop. He is no doubt supremely talented, but doesn’t have the physical dominance of a guy like David Fifita. Payten noted that Nanai looked tired at times, so don’t be surprised to see him have his minutes reduced in periods through the season, but there will be absolutely zero predictability to it. If you haven’t sold him yet, next week is the time, the try was a gift, don’t upset the fantasy gods and try to hold.
Next, Todd Payten LOVES Reuben Cotter, and he provides something different to every other Cowboys middle player – speed. The problem with that is the longer he is on the park, the less he can use that because he is gassed. As a result, we can expect him to be given a very consistent 45-50 minutes of quality play, with any injury minutes to be soaked by other guys who are less impacted by needing to play extended minutes. This is part of the reason I was a bit gun shy on him, because he relies almost solely on base stats and if he gets stuck on the field in a time with lots of dead time he may see some low scores.
Coen Hess is going to be in the team, but no real necessity for him to play massive minutes. Payten just loves the way he carries the ball and his leg speed compared to other guys.
Finally, Jason Taumalolo “has his motor running” according to coach Payten. “The players love having him on the park” and he “is really impressed with his efforts”. When Payten says efforts, he doesn’t mean the mountains of run metres – he means kick pressures, defensive scramble, etc. The big reason for the minutes being reduced last year by Payten was Jason’s lack of fitness to do all these things, so if Jason has upped his fitness and continues to play this way, Payten will keep leaving him on the park for more minutes.
This is about the extent of what we can say for sure, so here is what that looks like:
From here, we have to fit these blokes in (in what seems to be Payten priority order):
- Tom Gilbert
- Helium Luki
- Jordan Mclean
- Jamayne Taunoa-Brown/Griffin Neame
As you will see, we have one too many players for spots, and this is where the mystery begins.
You might not believe me, but Tom Gilberts best position, particularly in this version of Rugby League, is the same role as Jason Taumalolo plays. As that role is currently occupied by Taumalolo, we likely end up with Gilbert playing a hybrid mid/edge role similar to Jai Arrow at the Rabbitohs, with Luki playing the balance of minutes on the edge. There will no doubt be some temptation by Payten to try to do this with one interchange, but as to whether that is with Luki starting or from the bench, I doubt even Payten knows. Between them, they likely play the 80 minutes on the edge, plus the minutes Taumalolo is off the park, so typically about 100-110 minutes per game.
This leaves us with the final two bench spots, and about 70 minutes per game in a typical rotation. This is likely split evenly between Mclean and the winner of the final bench spot, which I expect will be Griffin Neame, leaving Jamayne Taunoa-Brown to be first man up in the pack for injury cover. This leaves the rotation looking like this…
Fantasy wise, what does this mean?
NANAI: Get out before he puts up a stinker and starts dropping cash. Round 13 is too far away I he can’t keep scoring bail out tries at this rate.
COTTER: More than likely going to kick along at approximately a point a minute, making about 45 points in tackles and run metres, and you just have to hope that the attacking stats outweigh the demerits on any given week.
GILBERT: If you look at his 45+ minute games, it shakes out (new scoring wise) at 42.6 points in 61.8 minutes across a 14 game sample, or 0.69ppm (nice). At about 65 minutes on average, that leaves you with about 45 points per week, which is perfectly acceptable to plug into your starting 17 through the origin period before you upgrade him.
TAUMALOLO: This man is a bit of an enigma. 2017-20 inclusive, if you look at his 50-65 minute performances, he averages 53.3 in 58.2 minutes, with T/O tackles needing to be added to that, so lets say 55 (1 t/o every 3 games). That is a PPM of 0.94. If you adjust it to 55-70 minutes, the average moves to 60.1 in 62.6, and with the same T/O points added it would make it 61.8 points or just under 0.99PPM. Why does he score better in more minutes??!!! Taumalolo has displayed this trend this year, scoring at 0.78ppm in his 50-55 minute performances and 0.9ppm in his 55+ minute games. Taumalolo also has a career 14% try scoring rate and a 47% line break rate, with none of either recorded yet in 2022.
I think we can shift Jase’s floor up to 55 minutes, which should adjust his average up too. There is some positive attacking stat regression coming, and I don’t think a 60 average is completely out of the question rest of season, I will be looking to jump on next week.