THE NQ COWBOYS UNPACKED

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:

ROLEPLAYERTYPICALLOWHIGH
HOKROBSON65-706080
MIDTAUMALOLO55-605070+
MIDCOTTER504555
MIDHESS40>3550
RBRNANAI80???80
LBR
B1GRANVILLE10-15020
B2
B3
B4

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.

ROLEPLAYERTYPICALLOWHIGH
HOKROBSON65-706080
MIDTAUMALOLO55-605070+
MIDCOTTER504555
MIDHESS40>3550
RBRNANAI80???80
LBRLUKI402550+
B1GRANVILLE10-15020
B2GILBERT605080
B3
B4
LUKI SHOWN AS “STARTER” BUT LIKELY ENDS UP COMING OFF THE BENCH

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…

ROLEPLAYERTYPICALLOWHIGH
HOKROBSON65-706080
MIDTAUMALOLO55-605070+
MIDCOTTER504555
MIDHESS40>3550
RBRNANAI80???80
LBRLUKI402550+
B1GRANVILLE10-15020+
B2GILBERT60-655075+
B3MCLEAN353040
B4NEAME303040
LUKI SHOWN AS “STARTER” BUT LIKELY ENDS UP COMING OFF THE BENCH

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.

IN FOCUS – DALY CHERRY-EVANS

With the news of Tom Trbojevic gone for a month, I asked myself how does this effect the long necked school captain as he’s currently one of only 3 halves averaging more than 56. My first thought would be this likely negatively impacts him as Manly become less potent attacking wise and will be starting sets deeper without Turbo’s kick returns. However, Daly’s career average is in fact more than 6 points better without Tom. I’d assume this likely comes through an increase in receipts without your star Fullback demanding touches. Let’s dig into the stats and see if Daly could potentially be a better pre-origin buy than King Cleary.

From 2018 until now Cherry played 28 games (at least 60 minutes) without Turbo for an impressive average of 61.1 (adjusted for new scoring). With this attacking weapon in his side, DCE has played 60 games since 2018 for an average of 54.5. We don’t have a particularly large sample of 2018 with DCE only playing 2 games without Turbo but let’s compare each year from 2019 to 2021 before jumping into where the differences come from.

Average by yearwith Turbowithout Turbo
2019 53.0 (12 games)56.4 (6 games)
202053.5 (7 games)59.7 (13 games)
202166.7 (15 games)68.3 (7 games)

We can see a noticeable uptick in Daly’s points whenever Turbo is not in the team with the smallest difference coming last year. This isn’t overly surprising given the PVL ball rules super charging Tom’s attack last year which translated into increased attacking stats for DCE with sharp increases in tries, try assists and linebreaks offsetting a big chunk of the extra work Daly picks up in Turbo’s absence. Now that we’ve established a pattern, where does DCE earn these extra points and can he potentially improve on what’s already been a great start to his 2022 fantasy season with him yet to post a score under 60.

Statwithout Turbo (19-21)’22 thus far
Tries30%25%
Try Assist100%25%
Linebreak40%25%
LBA70%
Tkle Bust3.43.5
Tackles20.521.8
Offloads1.11.5
Run Mtrs8083
Kick Mtrs396459
40/2010%25%
Kick Defusal30%25%
FDO’s0.71.8
TO Tkl25%25%
Negatives-7-6.5
Total60.164

As you can see the majority of these Turbo-less stats are very similar to what Cherry has been able to produce so far this year. The noticeable difference is the sharp increase in attacking play and try involvements with his try assist’s increasing dramatically as well as his linebreak assist’s, which he’s yet to record any this season. I don’t think this will come as a shock to anyone who’s watched a Manly game in the past 2 years but Turbo is obviously heavily involved in their attack sweeping around the back creating a numbers advantage which he’s exploited to devastating effect. Now obviously whoever has replaced Turbo in the past and will over the next month isn’t at the same standard. This change likely also comes with a change in attacking structure that requires DCE to being more hands on in attacking position.

Cherry has been scoring remarkably consistently so far this year in ways that are fairly sustainable for him. With added attacking responsibility it’s plausible we see him tickling the under side of a 70 average over the next 4 weeks but at worst I think he’s able to maintain this level scoring leading into Origin.

-Ryan

THE RULE CHANGE YOU MISSED

At this point in the season, much like a person who has won the lotto, Fantasy coaches are burning through trades trying to grab every single cheap player that pops up. This week, coaches are rushing out to buy Nathan Cleary at $1.05M, selling keepers like David Fifita in the process. It is with this craziness, that I want to bring you a reminder.

One of the rule changes for 2022 was the modifications to the trades, where coaches will be able to use 4 TRADES PER WEEK FROM ROUND 13 ONWARDS. Basically, if you max trade, you will run out of trades in week 16 before burning the 4 you were forced to hold in round 20 when they become available. During that time, smart coaches that avoided sideways or backwards trades (like Jack Bird to Beau Fermor and similar moves being suggested) will be able to trade at their leisure, and will pass you in the rankings so fast it will make your head spin. At this time, we should ONLY be trading unless it is absolutely necessary otherwise you miss the opportunity through the bye rounds.

Bringing you all back to our “game theory” article, here is what we had to say on the value of a trade:

THEORY 4: SAVE THE TRADES, BUT NOT ALL OF THEM

One of the most important elements of NRL Fantasy is saving trades where possible when others are spending them to give you the inevitable late season advantage. Mathematically speaking, the best time to use a trade (but only a good trade) is early in the season, because you have more weeks to benefit from the decision you made. Jumping onto a cash cow you missed after one week might seem sideways or a waste, but if you ask all of us who decided not to bother with the cash cow Nicho Hynes last year, we will tell you that we wish we had spent that trade. The trick is identifying the Nicho Hynes from the Tom Starling, and the truth is there is a fair bit of luck involved.

If you work backwards from the end result, you can see the value of a trade.

Ideally, in your “final team” you want to have 18 guns, with a solid 19 backup and two cheap “plug ins”. I wouldn’t worry too much about red dots for doing the loophole, because chances are one of your top 19 is going to be injured anyway.

The top 18 players price wise at the moment range from $1.05M to $720k, with all but 3 at $800K or less. So lets say by the end of the year you want 13x $750k average players, the 3 elite guys averaging about $900k, and two centres plus your 19th man at $650k. Two cheap guys at $400k. That adds up to about $15M and is really the best case scenario, but lets shoot for the stars and then worst case scenario we land on the moon.

Your starting team is worth $9.4M, so lets say you need to gain about $5.5M in value across the year. You get 36 trades, but you need to save a third of those (minimum) for injuries. This means, with your remaining 24 trades and 21 players in your squad, you need to make a profit of $230k for every trade you spend. Now you might be thinking “but Amateurs, hardly any players have $230k value, thats like almost 20 point increase on their BE” – and you would be correct.

Luckily for you, the starting players that you bring into your team do not require a trade.

Unluckily for you, like the 1/3 injury rule, we have to expect that 1/3 of the guys you start with are going to flop and underperform or get injured. Also keep in mind, thanks to rule #1, you are starting with Cleary so you actually only have 20 roster spots. Also, because you are diligent studiers of the Fantasy Amateurs website you are also going to start with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant, which means you have 18 spots to make money with.

Now you have to ask yourself: are there any other players I can start with that will save me a trade and give me the above mentioned players I need (a high 50s/60+ average player or a 50ish average centre/19th man) without me paying full price? Of course these “keeper” players exist, but you will need to work out who they are. It is my belief that you should be able to locate at least 3 of these players making about $100k per player in addition to Grant and Papenhuyzen, plus Captain Cleary holding value, meaning you can save 6 trades and fill spots in your final team with 15 spots remaining, $5M to make and a full compliment of 24 trades to get there, bringing you down to $208K per roster spot.

With your 15 starting players and 24 trades to spend, thats a total of 39 players you can use to generate that $5M, so the actual value required per trade/player is $128K, or about 10 points of value. This is why you hear experienced players talking about looking for either 10 points of value, or less value but still an under priced in a “keeper” player.

I really actually cannot stress this enough, as I have heard many experienced fantasy managers, even on expert analysis podcasts, discussing taking reduced value (only 5 or so points) players like Kobe Hetherington because of tough positions. I think we actually did it on our own podcast at one point too. Just don’t do it. If they don’t have 10 points value, they need to be a potential keeper (50+ average) our an out and out gun with some value. If you can’t find value in the position, then you need to make your 3-4 “potential guns” players in that position. End of story.

The bit in bold is the key, and what you really need to ask yourself is: “will the player I am trading to make $128k more than the player I am trading from?”. If you hear someone say something like “I think that player has a bit of cash to make” that isn’t good analysis. You need a concrete path to 10 points of value MORE THAN THE PLAYER YOU ARE SELLING.

I am not telling you not to trade at all, I am tell you to trade smart. Don’t piss them up the wall trading sideways. Don’t sell keepers. If you need to sell keepers to get Cleary, don’t get Cleary (yet). Trust the fantasy gods and the opportunities will show themselves.

ROUND 4 RAPID REACTIONS

The Good

The big chinned messiah returns with fantasy coaches desperate to get Nathan Cleary in immediately. Personally, I’m happy to wait a week priced at 81 with attacking stats and base stats down. I find it unlikely he’ll average more than 80, though he is the king and I wouldn’t put it past him. One thing I will say for certain, please do not trade two geuine keepers to get him, you will regret it when you’re out of trades like last year.

The king in waiting Nicho Hynes had another great week and is entering must have territory. In the pre-season we thought Hynes would have Cleary like touches in this Sharks attack and so far so good with Hynes sitting 3rd amongst non-hookers in total receipts per game. Hynes is sitting 2nd in the most popular buys this week with 3.65% of coaches bringing him in

The cheese had a strong return posting 62 points and is now only priced at 612k. Brandon Smith was looking like an enticing option for coaches with the dual position but being named at 14 and a break even still in the 60s means you can wait another week or two and see how his role plays out.

It was a good week for the mid rangers with Tom Gilbert, Kurt Mann, Josh King, Tom Starling, Beau Fermor and Jeremiah Nanai all posting good scores. This is the last week to get on Starling and Nanai so act accordingly while I think the boat has been missed on King. Mann & Gilbert I think have the potential to be keepers as long as they keep their current role and both are an easy swap for Stefano owners. Fermor I was of the opinion that he wasn’t a buy in the pre-season and I’m still of that opinion now after 2 tries and 2 try assists in 3 games. If you’re an owner just keep holding and enjoy the price rises but I can’t recommend him as a buy.

The Bad

Tom Trbojevic continues his free fall and Manly look in serious trouble with scaled back PVL rules. Turbo looks a good upgrade candidate to Cleary for those who started with him. Meanwhile, Ethan Bullemor and fantasy coaches again fall victim to Des Hasler shenanigan’s. Yeet Rating: Into the Sun

James Tedesco has been poor (like most fullbacks) to start the year with 3 errors last week. I’m sure he’ll end up a keeper but the Roosters have some holes in defence that need plugging if they want to contend this year and I’m having my doubts about them.

Angus Crichton is again on the bench this week and looks an obvious sell for 6.3% of coaches still holding on while Stefano Utoikamanu had a disappointing start to the year and finally got his ppm moving last week before suffering an ankle injury and now finds himself gone for 2 months. Dean Young cat fished us all promising big minutes for Jason Taumalolo which never eventuated and is struggling with his ppm as well. I think the days of keeper Lolo are over.

Bad is probably harsh but it’s certainly been a mediocre start for David Fifita. He’s been targetted heavily by opposition defenders with little room to move but creating good opportunities on the left for the Titans attack. Unfortunately that’s no help for fantasy coaches. As an owner I’m holding 1 more week against a lowly Tigers side but if he fails to produce this week I’ll likely move him on to Cleary.

In the expensive centre category, the clipped wings of Jack Bird have owners concerned only averaging 44 despite 2 tries in 3 games. By no means an urgent sell, he does seem a good one to upgrade when possible. Matt Burton had another low score in the wet and now faces a run of Melbourne, Penrith and Souths. So far Burton is matching my pre-seaon expectations of him struggling but will be a keeper by season’s end. Those who started with him will just need to ride this tough stretch of schedule.

The Cheap

Taylan May is the most popular buy so far this week with a break even of 5 after a hat trick last week and now gets Cleary back. He isn’t a slam dunk however, with Brian To’o is due back between round 7 to 9 I’d probably rate him 3rd amongst the cheapie options this week behind both Knights. He should get wfb dual position after round 6.

The Knights dish up two popular cheap buys this week with Leo Thompson and Brodie Jones both in line for price rises. This is likely the last week to buy Leo with a break even of 1 and Klemmer due back in a few weeks. Jones showed in a small sample of back row starts last year to be a reliable scorer averaging in the mid 40s and should be safe for at least the next 6 weeks with Fitzgibbon injured and Barnett suspended. I don’t have high hopes his first week back from an injury lay off follwed by having Covid last week, but still a great buy.

Kelma Tuilagi returns from a week off after a failed HIA so hopefully he can get his price rises moving this week.

Lachlan Ilias, Talatau Amone & Xavier Coates continue to cement home their trap status and can be traded at your leisure.

-Ryan

ROUND 1 RAPID REACTIONS

Penrith Panthers v Manly Sea Eagles

Ethan Bullemor got his price rises rolling in a less than convincing performance that was bolstered by Manly’s lone try. Luckily they don’t play Penrith every week so hope for an improved performance in Rd2. Tom Trbojevic had a rough start with about 19% coaches wishing they’d opted for a different captain choice but will likely be an excellent buy at a discount in a few weeks for those who went without. Meanwhile his brother, Jake Trbojevic put up a very solid 56 and could be an early sign that he’s back to his 2020 plodder powers. The big fantasy options Stephen Crichton & Izack Tago go there price rises moving quickly with both scoring a try and putting up big scores. If you missed them, get them in!

Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks

Nicho Hynes got his scoring off to a solid start posting a 53. Cronulla struggled for possession in the first half so I’d expect this to only improve. Brad Schneider also posted a solid 44 point score and should be a reliable top 17 scorer for as long as he holds the goal kicking duties. Teig Wilton rewarded owners who went with him scoring a try and top scored for the game with 68. Owners who started with Tom Starling got some luck with Josh Hodgson going down injured early, however with the news he’s only out for 2 weeks Starling can’t be considered as a buy yet.

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs

Captain Haas. That’s the analysis.

Billy Walters & Albert Kelly both put in strong performances and now we’ll have to wait until Tuesday to see if Walters hold his spot. Jai Arrow had a great game and could be a potential keeper option if he sustains that many minutes each week.

Lachan Ilias time to panic? Maybe. He looked every bit the Adam Clune we thought he would and normally I’d say hold and don’t panic. He had a quite a few negatives that I’d expect to come down slightly and I’d normally expect an increase in attacking stats especially given their expected points were 21.66 and they only managed 4. However, things aren’t poised to get better quickly with Souths playing the Storm, Roosters and Panthers over the next 3 weeks. I’d consider selling if you have no other problems.

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights

Billy Smith continued the poor cheapie performances posting only 5 points in 53mins before leaving the field due to a HIA. I don’t think the Roosters are going to be that bad every week and I’d continue to hold Billy for as long as he holds the centre spot. Some of our friends across the fantasy community got swept up in the Sam Walker hype and jumped on board only to be let down with a 26 point score. I’d jumping off ASAP. He’s the 3rd string option in this spine, essentially Lachlan Lam with goal kicking (and a poor one). The 60% of you who don’t own Chris Randall I can only assume are bots. Kurt Mann was also solid posting a 45 point score that was slowed down with a 10 minute stint at hooker due to Crossland’s sin binning.

NZ Warriors v St George Illawara Dragons

Euan Aitken was very impressive fantasy wise posting 56pts in mainly base stats in what was a fairly poor fantasy game overall. Elise Katoa and Jack Bird also put solid scores with each jagging a try. Viliami Vailea was very disappointing scoring only 7pts but at 240k doesn’t have far to fall. Every other fantasy option was largely unimpressive other than Josh Curran who was the stand out with 72pts in 66mins.

Melbourne Storm v Wests Tigers

Harry Grant & Josh King szn. With Brandon Smith likely gone for a month these two look the big winners with King looking a solid buy for round 2. Ryan Papenhuyzen looked great footy wise but only posted 44pts with Meaney taking the goal kicking duties in round 1 and now potentially longer with the injury to George Jennings. Christian Welch played big minutes and scored okay before another cruel injury ruling him out for most of the season. Awful luck for him and owners, sell. Kelma Tuilagi looks a potentially great cash cow scoring 38pts, the majority in the first half before the Storm controlling possession in the 2nd half slowed his scoring. Stefano Utoikamanu only played 50 minutes as predicted and is likely not going to produce long term value if that doesn’t improve especially with Tyrone Peachey playing huge minutes off the bench.

Parramatta Eels v Gold Coast Titans

Defence was optional here in what was a fairly poor fantasy game. Papali’i and Fifita were the only two players to hit 50 without a try which is fairly encouraging for future games. Sexton & Moses were both solid with scoring slowing down in the 2nd half. Junior Paulo was disappointing but if bought him I wouldn’t panic yet. Penisini posted a solid tryless 31pts which is encouraging for future games where he gets a try involvement. Sean Russell was a bright spot and on course to being the best cheapie back of the round before some Campbell knees to the ribs will likely see him miss a month.

NQ Cowboys v Canterbury Bulldogs

Battle of spoon featured two awful attacks but there were plenty of bright spots here. Jeremiah Nanai & Max King both were great and if you’re missing either get them in asap. Tom Gilbert was huge for the Cowboys and played big minutes staring on an edge and switching into the middle. Not sure this will continue once Cotter is back in the side but keep an eye on TLT. Matt Burton underwhelmed as predicted with only 38 points and I think the 32% owners could be in for a rough 2 months with the Bulldogs schedule getting considerably tougher until magic round. Jason Taumalolo was solid posting 46 points in 52mins but coaches (myself included) were no doubt hoping for more minutes. I wouldn’t panic yet as I think this could just be a fitness issue. Taumalolo didn’t play in either trial and had a disrupted pre-season due to a hamstring strain plus it’s still hot as hell in Townsville with plenty of players cramping up. It would be nice to see an offload though, hold for now and reassess in 2 weeks.

-Ryan

THE “JOHNSON EFFECT”

Two of the more recent In Focus articles that dropped this past week were on POD mid range edge players Eliesa Katoa & Briton Nikora. In those two articles, we highlighted that Katoa has the potential to become a keeper but is likely a very solid mid range cash cow with about 10-12 points of value and in our opinion is deserving of higher ownership (which may increase on TLT). The latter we summarised has the potential to average in the low 50s this year providing about 8 points of value and at worst looks a very handy sleeper pick in draft formats. However, there’s one specific thing these two have in common when projecting averages and that is the “Johnson effect”.

For three seasons, Shaun Johnson played inside Nikora on that Sharks right hand edge and now it appears with Johnson’s move back to the Warriors, Katoa will be his new “right hand man”, so to speak. My initial assumption was that this would be good for Katoa, having spent his first grade appearances thus far being rotated through a revolving door of different halves options, now getting an experienced top flight half who knows how to create a try assist, can only be good. In the same way I thought it was good for Nikora who, as we saw in the Bulldogs trial, can be a very good line runner and can find the try line when a half feeds him.

After a conversation with a friend, I was prompted to test this assumption, after all a big part of fantasy analysis is trying to remove yourself from your own preconceived bias and narratives. Needless to say, I was fairly surprised at the results. From 2019 to 2021, Nikora played a total of 56 games on an edge with 60+ minutes averaging 47.2 (adjusted for new scoring), with 36 of those appearances featuring Johnson and 20 without. In the 36 games with Johnson, Nikora only averaged 45.9 while in the 20 games without he posted an average of 50.8, a massive 4.9 point difference. So where did these extra points come from? Well all of the base stats are about the same with run metres and negatives being equal, only 1 extra tackle and 1 point from extra turnover tackles and a try saver. This leaves a 2.9 point gap which is made up entirely of extra attacking stats. These came in the form of 1.8 points from additional offloads, tackle busts, try and line break assists, while the big difference was an increase in his try scoring and linebreak rates. Nikora’s try scoring increased from 26% with Johnson to 35% without, while his linebreak rate increased 7% as well from 38% to 45%. equating to a difference of 1.1 points per game. Meanwhile, Sione Katoa, the Sharks right winger for the majority of Johnson’s time, averaged 38pts with Johnson and only 34.8 without during the same span, while Jesse Ramien’s average stayed similar.

It seems the main beneficiary from the “Johnson effect” is his winger and not the edge backrower. What does this mean for Eliesa Katoa? Well the luxury of being a backrower priced at only 34 points is as long as you’re on the field for 60+ minutes, you’ll usually accrue enough in base stats to make enough money and I don’t think that will be an issue here. Though we may need to tamper expectations of him being keeper and expect a mid 40s average in a 65+ minute role. Meanwhile in the shire, this could be another positive in the pro-Nikora column with Hynes feeding him which furthers my belief he has the ability to push into the low 50s this season.

-Ryan

IN FOCUS – JUNIOR PAULO

We have saved our biggest in focus for last, with new Eels captain Junior Paulo coming under the microscope as a POD option at only 4.3%. Paulo has moved into the elite middle forwards in the NRL since his departure from the Raiders, but had some regression from his stellar 2020 season statistically. So what do we expect for 2022?

To get the obvious out of the way, Paulo is a large human being. The fact that he is playing 50-55 minutes per game is a testament to the training ability of the NRL conditioning staff, and Junior himself. In 2020, Paulo hit his peak in terms of Fantasy output vs minutes played, pumping out 54 minutes at 0.97ppm (his previous best being 0.84ppm) before coming back to 0.86ppm in 2021.

Personally, I think Paulo broke out in 2020 in terms of his ability to play big minutes well, and the speed of the game was just too much for him in 2021 to keep the work rate up. The change in points was basically 30 metres per game, 1 tackle bust and half a demerit, all of which can be explained by fatigue.

When we look at his 2020 season, we can see there was nothing unrealistic about his output. 26 tackles and 155 metres in 54 minutes for a player of that calibre is expected. Where Paulo makes his hay is the 2.3 offloads per game going to hand, which is huge. Add in the odd T/O tackle, and a few extra minutes thanks to the captaincy and the likely presence of a Utility on the bench, and a realistic outcome for Paulo is a 55 average.

Paulo starts at $569K with a BE of 46, and is a realistic chance of being priced in the very high $600s by the time he is called up for Origin duties. From there, it is a comfortable step up to a Tohu Harris who should be 3-4 weeks returned from his ACL injury and primed for purchase as a straight swap for Paulo, if you have the trades that is! I see equal or greater upside with Paulo than guys like Jason Taumalolo, Jake Trbojevic and Addin Fonua-Blake who will cost you a lot more. He feels like the best option in his price bracket that feature Arrow, Stefano, Welch, and Tapine, and he has been locked into my side for a week now.

To check out his stats, visit https://app.rugbyleaguefantasypro.com/fantasy/gamelog.

IN FOCUS – KURT CAPEWELL

Origin Hero Kurt Capewell was one of our early obvious buy options for 2022, but it seems as though he has lost some momentum since last year. Lets have a look closer at Capewell to see if maybe we have unnecessarily written him off…

Capewell looks to be a walk up 80 minute player at the Broncos, so we need to project his role as such. Extrapolated out for 80 minutes, his averages look like…

2017/18201920202021
80 MIN AVG42.2536.958.251.8
STATS COURTESY OF RUGBY LEAGUE FANTASY PRO STATS WEBSITE

One thing to keep in mind is that, prior to 2020, many times Capewell started on the edge and then shifted to centre or even wing midway through the game to cover injury. He was also not a full time edge player, only playing 7 games as a starting edge in 2017/18 before increasing to 15 in 2019. In 2020/21, Capewell was used almost exclusively in the back row, with his 2020 being cut very short due to injury.

Nonetheless, his 2020 starts on the edge were very impressive, scoring 3 tries in the 4 matches he managed to play 50+ minutes and averaging around 53.3 points per game in base stats (extrapolated to 80 min). In 2021 that number dropped to around 46.6 points per game in base stats (extrapolated to 80 min), but we can attribute that to the style of play in the NRL, particularly with the Panthers. Eliminating the bottom 4 sides, that number rises to 47.1, and basically Capewell wasn’t being asked to do the defensive workload in 2021.

Moving to 2022, partnering a rookie half, we expect Capewell to revert back to similar numbers to 2020, with some allowance for statistical variance. I want to bridge the gap between 2020 and 2021 in terms of the base, which would be roughly 50 points per game in base stats. Per Rugby League Fantasy Pro stats calculator, Capewells attacking points marginally outweigh his negatives across the last two years, so if we apply this trend to the base we could see Capewell average between 51-52 points per game. The worry for Capewell is whether or not the Broncos can turn things around, as a reversion to his prior career back row numbers in terms of attack v demerits would see him at 47-48 points per game, which is in a very awkward value range.

Starting at $511K, I have no doubt whatsoever that Capewell has at least 5 points of value. The question is whether it is 5-7 points of value or 9-11 points of value. Following this thought to its conclusion, I think there are a few players between 70k-100k cheaper who offer similar floor and ceiling, albeit with less job security, making the decision to buy Capewell the “safe but likely underwhelming” approach and as we know – fortune favours the brave.

2022 FINAL SHORT LIST

ROUND 1 CAPTAINCY OPTIONS

PAYNE HAAS – BRISBANE BRONCOS (PROJECTED AVG 65+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/21/payne-haas/

DAMIEN COOK – SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (PROJECTED AVG APPROX 60-65)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/07/damien-cook/

POTENTIAL “KEEPER” LEVEL SCORES WITH SOME VALUE

HARRY GRANT – MELBOURNE STORM (PROJECTED AVG 55+) https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/28/harry-grant/

TEVITA PANGAI JR – CANTERBURY BULLDOGS (PROJECTED AVG 55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/16/tevita-pangai-jr/

CHRISTIAN WELCH – MELBOURNE STORM (PROJECTED AVG 50+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/05/christianwelch/

STEFANO UTOIKAMANU – WESTS TIGERS (PROJECTED AVG 50+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/08/stefano-utoikamanu/

MATT BURTON – CANTERBURY BULLDOGS (PROJECTED AVG 50ISH)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/10/matt-burton/

TOBY SEXTON – GOLD COAST TITANS (PROJECTED AVG 55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/19/toby-sexton/

NICHO HYNES – CRONULLA SHARKS (PROJECTED AVG 50-55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/05/nico-hynes/

JACK BIRD – ST GEORGE DRAGONS (PROJECTED AVG 45-50)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/04/jack-bird/

RYAN PAPENHUYZEN – MELBOURNE STORM (PROJECTED AVG 55+) https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/27/ryan-papenhuyzen/

EUAN AITKEN – NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS (PROJECTED AVG 50-55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/13/euan-aitken/

JASON TAUMALOLO – NORTH QLD COWBOYS (PROJECTED AVG 50-55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/09/jason-taumalolo/

JAI ARROW – SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (PROJECTED AVG 50+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/21/jai-arrow/

JAKE TRBOJEVIC – MANLY SEA EAGLES (PROJECTED AVG 55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/21/jake-trbojevic/

HAMISO TABUAI-FIDOW – NORTH QLD COWBOYS (PROJECTED AVG 45+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/16/hamiso-tabuai-fidow/

ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE – NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS (PROJECTED AVG 55ISH)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/06/addin-fonua-blake/

JUNIOR PAULO – PARRAMATTA EELS (PROJECTED AVG 50-55+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/03/02/in-focus-junior-paulo/

ELIESA KATOA – NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS (PROJECTED AVG 47-52+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/27/eliesa-katoa/

JAMES TEDESCO – SYDNEY ROOSTERS

POTENTIAL CASH COWS SUB $360K
ANALYSIS HERE: https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/22/2022-cash-cow-rankings/

CHRIS RANDALL – NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (PROJECTED AVG 40+)

BILLY WALTERS – BRISBANE BRONCOS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

IZACK TAGO – PENRITH PANTHERS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

TALATAU AMONE – ST GEORGE DRAGONS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

JEREMIAH NANAI – NORTH QLD COWBOYS (PROJECTED AVG 38+)

LACHLAN ILIAS – SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (PROJECTED AVG 33+)

WILL PENISINI – PARRAMATTA EELS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

STEPHEN CRICHTON – PENRITH PANTHERS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

XAVIER COATES – MELBOURNE STORM (PROJECTED AVG 30-35)

SEAN RUSSELL – PARRAMATTA EELS (PROJECTED AVG 30 ISH)

ROCCO BERRY – NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS (PROJECTED AVG 30-35)

VILIAME VAILEA – NZ WARRIORS (PROJECTED AVG 30-35)

BILLY SMITH – SYDNEY ROOSTERS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

MAX KING – CANTERBURY BULLDOGS (PROJECTED AVG 25+)

BRAD SCHNEIDER – CANBERRA RAIDERS (PROJECTED AVG 40+)

KELMA TUILAGI – WESTS TIGERS (PROJECTED AVG 35+)

LEO THOMPSON – NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (PROJECTED AVG 25-30)

MID RANGE PLAYERS WITH VALUE WORTH CONSIDERATION

KURT CAPEWELL – BRISBANE BRONCOS (PROJECTED AVG 47-52)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/03/02/in-focus-kurt-capewell/

DAVID NOFOALUMA – WESTS TIGERS (PROJECTED AVG 45-50)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/21/david-nofoaluma/

JACKSON HASTINGS – WESTS TIGERS (PROJECTED AVG 42-47)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/22/jackson-hastings/

CHARNZE NICOL-KLOKSTAAD – CANBERRA RAIDERS (PROJECTED AVG 40-45)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/24/charnze-nicoll-klokstad/

BRITON NIKORA – CRONULLA SHARKS (PROJECTED AVG 50ISH)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/27/briton-nikora/

KURT MANN – NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (PROJECTED AVG 45+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/01/17/in-focus-kurt-mann/

QUESTIONABLE PROSPECTS BUT BUYS IF SELECTED IN THE CORRECT ROLE

TOM STARLING – CANBERRA RAIDERS (PROJECTED AVG 40-45+)
https://amateursfantasysports.com/2022/02/28/tom-starling/

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IN FOCUS – TOM STARLING

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.