Fantasy Impacts of the 17th Team: GAME THEORY

There were bound to be some…

The NRL have added an extra team, and some of the impacts are obvious. We explore those obvious impacts, plus a few fun wrinkles which have flown under the radar.


Obviously, the single biggest impact is the addition of an every round bye. The NRL have designed the byes to give the teams with the most origin representatives a bye around the Origin period, meaning teams like the Warriors have ended up with a bye right before origin. So how does this impact our fantasy strategy?

Well – ideally we want to look at players in 6 week blocks early in the year. The Dragons, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Roosters, Titans and Sharks all find themselves with early byes, but that isn’t to say we avoid these players. In fact, there is a case to be made that we should actually TARGET them, because the most likely time you are going to be rostering a full team of green dots with plenty of positional cover is rounds 1-3 before injuries and suspensions kick in and teams that are struggling start making changes to their roster.

It also means you aren’t looking to trade a guy because he has a bye coming up, because they have already had their bye. This makes options such as Tyrell Sloan, Jack Bird, Nathan Cleary and Brandon Smith – who were already attractive – arguably even more so with a predictable early bye to get out of the way.

The important thing to remember is that you don’t lose all their points, you only lose their “points over replacement”, being the gap between them and the player you are replacing them with. Take Brandon Smith, who averages say 50. You replace him with your 18th man, who may even be able to put up a 35-40 (see Max King 2022), meaning starting with Smith has saved you a trade and only “cost you” 10-15 points for that week.

I guess the point is this, don’t start with a “worse” player because of their bye, because an early bye might not be the disadvantage that people will say it is.


While most other positions have been negligibly impacted from a Fantasy perspective, the MID position will see the biggest benefit for Fantasy players in 2023. Let me explain…

When the Dolphins were introduced, they added 5-6 more positions for middle forwards. They then went to the trouble of signing “Dads Army” – a bunch of older forwards, and then a few guys like Tom Gilbert and Jarrod Wallace who were playing significant minutes for their former clubs. The impact of this will be that there should be, in theory, 3-4 more middle forward positions of strong minutes in the NRL than there was last year.

That, combined with the usual list of retirements and players heading off to Super League means it should open a surplus of middle forward minutes to what we normally get. We have no less than 20 MID eligible players on our short list at the moment, which will no doubt be trimmed coming into round 1, but is WAY higher than normal.

Why this doesn’t impact the other positions as much is very simple – guys who replace players in 80 minute roles due to injury (i.e Sean O’Sullivan at Panthers) typically also play 80 minutes, meaning any potential value upside in a new job is limited unless they landed in a utility role after filling in. Because middle forwards don’t normally play 80 minutes, it opens up a lot more minutes for increased roles with the expansion.

Putting this into practice – there should be no reason to take risks at this position or compromise on “almost enough value”. If there isn’t a clear 10 points for cash cows and mid rangers, or a clear 5+ points for keepers, forget it. There will be plenty of opportunities for taking risks on positions short on value, but this isn’t one of them.


In response to the added byes, the game creators have responded by adding 8 additional trades for the extra 2 rounds, so basically instead of having 1.44 trades per week on average you now have 1.63 trades per week, or essentially 1 extra trade every 6 weeks. This may seem like a lot, but as many of you will remember – last season was basically “try and get 17 green dots on the park and pray” for a lot of the year. Oh, and did we mention that they are holding back an extra 4 trades until round 20 to make sure that people who run out of trades early stay engaged all year.

So, in short

2022: Rounds 1-19 – 1.68 trades per week available
2023: Rounds 1-19 – 1.89 trades per week available

This improves the situation slightly, but basically there is sweet FA difference in the trading situation last year, except this year you will have to combat your players going on bye, in addition to Origin duties, rests before and after Origin, injuries, suspensions and droppings.

So, how do we combat this similar or worse position compared to last year?

In short:
JOB SECURE squad depth
– Dual position players
– Bye planning

Last year, we wrote extensively about buying players with job security and dual position status where possible, and this will be even more important in 2023. I want to strongly suggest you consider what we wrote Impact 1 about bye planning, particularly as it relates to starting with players like Brandon Smith and Nathan Cleary.

It will also be critical when selecting early season and mid season cash cows, as you just cannot afford a Zac Cini/Billy Smith type situation where they sit on your bench for 6 weeks with a red dot. It may be worth taking the cautious approach and waiting before grabbing a guy just to make sure he has a job (see Thompson/Milne on Rabbitohs right wing).

Where you may want to choose to take risks is with DPP players, or players in tough positions that are on the fence of value, particularly where they have solid job security. This will be prevalent in the WFB position with players like Xavier Savage and Jake Averillo who are cheap, safe and have high upside in a position with limited strong options.

Lastly, it may be prudent to simply avoid players who are inevitable Origin representatives, particularly where they have an “awkward” bye. All in all, the NRL has done a pretty good job of putting teams around the Origin weeks that should have low Origin representation, but there are bound to be exceptions.



For years, the well known rule number 1 of NRL Fantasy was simple – buy Cameron Smith, Captain Cameron Smith. Why was this the rule though? In short, Smith provided a unique combination of floor (low end scoring) and ceiling (high end scoring), and had a wide variety of avenues to score points ensuring that no matter the scoreline, his score was ticking over. There were times where a player matched his average for a year, but never on a consistent basis. Upon his retirement, it seemed as though rule number 1 was dead, enter Nathan Cleary who, like his predecessor, has a wide array of points scoring options, and frankly puts Smith to shame. Like Smith, Cleary had challengers (Tom Turbo) but ultimately could not be matched for that unique blend of consistently high scoring. Supplemental point: Nicho Hynes and Nathan Cleary now find themselves in a tier together. Do you pay $27k for the non-Origin option?


One of the big mistakes that new (and some experienced) players make is trying to get TOO creative with their teams. For the most part, you are looking to make the right selections for your team, while protecting your downside (like the share market).

There are four possible outcomes:

  1. You decide to buy and he performs as expected and succeeds in gaining value, that is good. Yes, everyone else has him, but who cares.
  2. You decide to buy, but he underperforms and you aren’t able to get the value for him. No matter, everyone else had the same problem.
  3. You decide to avoid and he succeeds, so at best you have an equally good option, and at worst you have a dud “POD” instead of making the right choice.
  4. You decide to skip and are right, he fails. Now, did you manage to identify a better option who succeeds? If not, you are in the same position, which is fine.

As you can see, in the “buy line”, there is a 50% chance of it being good you got him, or a 50% chance it being fine because at least everyone else is having the same problem.

Whereas, in the “don’t buy line”, there is a 25% chance you get it right, a 50% chance its fine (same as before) but a big 25% chunk that is bad, which is your unprotected downside.


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 Taylan May last year, we will tell you that we wish we had spent that trade. The trick is identifying the Taylan May from the Billy Smith, 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 $1M to $770k, with 8 at $800K or less. So lets say by the end of the year you want 13x $800 average players, the 3 elite guys averaging about $950k, and two centres plus your 19th man at $650k. Two cheap guys at $400k. That adds up to about $16M 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 $10M, so lets say you need to gain about $6M in value across the year. You get 44 trades, but you need to save a third of those (minimum) for injuries. This means, with your remaining 30 trades and 21 players in your squad, you need to make a profit of $200k for every trade you spend. Now you might be thinking “but Amateurs, hardly any players have $200k value, thats like 15+ 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 Payne Haas and Adam Doueihi, 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 Haas and Doueihi, plus Captain Cleary holding value, meaning you can save 6 trades and fill spots in your final team with 15 spots remaining, $5.5M to make and a full compliment of 38 trades to get there, bringing you down to $145K per roster spot.

With your 15 starting players and 30 trades to spend, thats a total of 44 players you can use to generate that $5.5M, so the actual value required per trade/player is $122K, or about 8-10 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 Kalyn Ponga because of tough positions. Just don’t do it. If they don’t have 8+ 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.


Lets see what we have learned:

  • Start with Nathan Cleary and captain him
  • Start with Payne Haas, Adam Doueihi and 3-4 other “under priced” potential guns
  • Ensure the 14-15 other players you select have 8+ points of value or more
  • Fill your team with as many popularsecure players as possible
  • Ideally, get players with dual position eligibility.
  • Select players with favourable bye schedules, either very early or late.

Seems easy doesn’t it, don’t overthink it.


There is a reason why elite teams still play their star players even when they don’t need to. It is the reason the Panthers risked Nathan Cleary in round 25 of 2021 with no shoulder in a meaningless regular season game. The best of the best practice perfect, which means that they treat “meaningless” games with the same attitude as any other match.

In our context, what I mean is VALYNCE TE WHARE being in almost 25% of teams, when we know damn well he isn’t playing in week 1. Do not give me “he is just a place holder”. Do your damn research and put guys in your team who are a strong chance of playing. If you can’t find any, it means you should not be building teams based on having a specific number of cheapies that will not exist come TLT.

In the magical time when there is an unexpected additional cheapie or two, you can always cash someone down and upgrade elsewhere, but you should be planning for the (conceivable) worst case scenario, which is typically a maximum of 4x 250k or less players.

Let me say that again. If you have more than 4x 250k or less players in your team, fix that.

We will be publishing specific content closer to the season on exactly who those cheapies might be, but the answers will already be contained within our content.


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