2023 – the season for redemption?

2022 was a year to forget for Luke Thompson, in far more ways than just performances on the footy field. Thompson was forced to take a hiatus from footy midway through the season to return to England due to his mum’s ailing health. On the field, Thompson wasn’t much luckier, suffering a series of injuries ranging from minor knocks to a broken toe, the flu, a week of diarrhoea and culminating in a concussion that resulted in lingering symptoms. All of this meant Thompson played very little football in the back half of the year, limited to only one bench appearance in round 23. With all of that in the rear view mirror and the departure of Paul Vaughan and Josh Jackson, what exactly can we expect from a healthy Luke Thompson in 2023?

When playing at least 40 minutes, Thompson has averaged 56 minutes pretty consistently over the course of his 3 NRL seasons with this seemingly likely to continue into 2023. If the Bulldogs were to deviate from our predicted lineup and opt to run a four forward bench or start Faitala-Mariner on an edge with Pangai used solely as a middle forward, I don’t think that would be automatically disqualifying for Thompson and would likely be more impactful to the outlooks of Pangai, Sutton and King. Of course the main wildcard in this prediction is new coach Cameron Ciraldo who could change his rotation and forward priorities up but until we have evidence to the contrary, let’s assume Thompson will be playing in his 56 minute average role.

40+ min appearancesAverage MinsAverage PointsPPM

On the surface it would appear the 2021 PVL Ball year is the outlier in Thompson’s stat line but we have to ask how much did the myriad of injuries in 2022 and the lack of a pre-season combined with hotel quarantine in 2020 play into the reduced PPM?

Between all three seasons his tackles, offloads and negative stats remained relatively similar with the biggest variance coming in the way of tackle busts and run metres. In 2020 Thompson averaged 113m and 1 tackle bust and in 2022 he averaged 103m and 0.8 tackle busts per game. In 2021 however, Thompson posted 142m and 2.4 tackle busts, aided by a 10 tackle bust game in round 19. Thompson also scored 3 tries that season while failing to score any in 2020 or 2022. I think it’s safe to assume there was some definite inflation in his tackle bust numbers due to PVL ball but if the Bulldogs are the improved side and top 8 contenders we expect them to be this year, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect an increase in run metres and tackle busts when compared to 2020 and 2022. If he were to average 1.5 tackle busts, 130m and maybe snag 1 try throughout the year I could easily see Thompson pushing his PPM in the 0.85 to 0.9 range.

Ultimately, even an optimistic PPM projection of 0.9 would have him averaging 50 in 56mins offering only about 7 points of value and short of being a keeper as well. With Barnett, Horsburgh and Pangai all within that price bracket and offering higher upside I can’t recommend starting with Thompson based solely on stats. Any decision to start with him would be based predominantly on the gut feel of an improved Bulldogs side, a healthy and disruption free pre-season as well as the safety of a secure role unlike Pangai.



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