NRL Fantasy 2016: Centres Analysis

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The centre position is typically one of the easier to fill. Frequently, there is an under-priced option, or a dual-position player likely to start in the second row, or a combination of the two which make selecting your centres a relatively pedestrian affair. This season, coaches have the opportunity to do the same, with Kirisome Auva’a starting the season at just $139,000. Auva’a however isn’t a standout fantasy scorer, doesn’t have guaranteed job security, and is set to play for a team likely to slide in the overall standings this season. So what should coaches do?

Our NRL 2016 Ladder Prediction is now LIVE on the website! Where is your side going to finish this coming campaign?

Make sure you’re across our other NRL Fantasy 2016 pre-season positional previews:

There are several dual-position players available at centre that already covered in other articles published this pre-season.

Blake Ferguson, James Roberts, Euan Aitken and Dale Copley have all been discussed at length in our Wing/Fullback Analysis article and as such, will only receive lip service here. Our advice on those four players changes only fractionally if you’re looking to pick up these players at this position:

  • Dale Copley should ideally be selected as a non-playing reserve, so that his production can be evaluated before his scores are relied upon.
  • Blake Ferguson remains a buy, and where you buy him should be contingent on whether or not you see more value at the centre or fullback position.
  • Euan Aitken remains an ‘avoid’, whilst James Roberts remains a ‘consider’.

NRL Fantasy Analysis 2016: Centres

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Joey Leilua (CAN – $270,000)

Our review of this player has changed following pre-season action/news. Click here to read our update.

‘He’s been training really well in pre-season’ has a horrible tendency to completely mislead fantasy coaches. However when a player has the proven potential of Leilua, has a history of attitude and weight issues, and comes off a horribly disappointing season in which his coach was disappointed in his effort, then it definitely counts for something. Leilua’s pre-season started two weeks earlier than the remainder of the Canberra squad and as a result, he’s become far leaner than we saw last season. Impressively, he’s only lost 3kg though, with his weights program clearly being adhered to. Leilua will start in the centres in Canberra this season, and looms as a seriously under-priced option. In 2014, Leilua averaged 40.18 on a Newcastle team which averaged 19.3 points per game. In 2013, at just 21 years of age, he averaged 35.75. Leilua is currently priced at 30.2 after a disappointing year in which he made forward cameos off the bench, was over-weight and moved club mid-season.

Add to this that he faces the Panthers, Roosters, Knights, Eels, Titans, Bulldogs, Sharks and Tigers over the opening two months of the season and you have an opportunity to score some quick cash with a run of favourable fixtures.

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Josh Dugan (SGI – $432,000)

The Josh Dugan situation is a very straight forward one. Last season, he averaged 48.29 points per game as a fullback. In 2013, he averaged 54.36. In 2014, when the Dragons were a more potent team in attack, Dugan averaged just 43.5 points per game. Why? Because he played at centre. Whilst he will likely see an increase in tries and try-assists from last season (in 2014 he scored 3 more tries than he did last season), expect a decrease in scores. Dugan missed an average of 3 tackles per game in the centres in 2014, meaning that his defensive output is unlikely to offset the reduction of 60 metres per game he’s likely to experience. Best case scenario? Dugan retains his value, however we see him tailing off substantially as the season goes on, particularly with the Dragons being a defensive team at heart.

Dane Gagai (NEW – $317,000) and Jack Reed (BRI – $289,000)

Gagai’s fantasy output in 2015 was closely linked to where he was named for the Knights. At fullback, Gagai averaged 42 last season, compared to just 33.68 at centre. Newcastle may be more competent in attack this season, giving the Queenslander a chance of improving that mark of 33, however he’s unlikely to see any time at fullback. Gagai remains a poor defender, with his 63 missed tackles meaning he only made 5.33 points per game from tackling. As a result, Gagai relies entirely on attacking statistics, something that is difficult to generate for a Knights player. For those thinking he may make an improvement on his 7 try effort from 2015, he scored 7 tries from 24 games in 2014 too.

Few coaches will be looking at Reed, however even at 2.1% ownership in pre-season, he’s in too many teams. Jack Reed is the prototypical defensive centre, whose work doesn’t translate well into fantasy production. Last season however, he went on a miraculous try-scoring run which heavily inflated his statsistics. From Round 11 to Round 15, Reed averaged 61 points per game, a feat which eventually elevated his season average from what would have been 25.53 to 32.29. In 2014, Reed averaged 24 – a figure we feel is far more tenable now that James Roberts is being deployed on the opposite side of the field.

Jamie Lyon (MAN – $363,000) and Jarrod Croker (CAN – $372,000)

After a disrupted start to 2015, Jamie Lyon was one of the more impressive centres in NRL Fantasy. Lyon missed four of the opening 8 rounds, after which time he averaged 45.23 for the remainder of the season. He’ll retain goal-kicking duties this season, may adopt some general-play kicking responsibilities and should continue to sit on the end of one of the more accomplished back-lines in the NRL. The main concerns surrounding his continued production are his age, and what the departure of Kieran Foran will do to Manly. At 34, age could become a factor, however until we see a decline, we’re not buying into it. More importantly, the loss of Foran (a player who predominantly operated on the opposite side of the field to Lyon) is more than offset (as far as Lyon is concerned) by the notable upgrades to Manly’s forward pack. Lyon is arguably slightly undervalued this season, having averaged 39.95 in 2014 and 42.38 in 2013.

The other goal-kicking option at centre, Jarrod Croker has improved his fantasy production in each of the past three seasons. In 2015, his 12 tries, 94 conversions, improved defence (333 points from tackling) and decent running game gave him a solid foundation from which to build. In all, Croker scored below 20 just once, below 35 seven times, and cracked the 45-point barrier on ten occasions. Unfortunately, there is little scope for improvement on those figures in 2016. Centres very rarely find a way to average more than 40, and when they do it is on the back of a devastating running game. Croker averaged 2.1 tackle breaks per game last season, but when you consider Josh Dugan averaged 4.9 in his year as a centre in 2014, Croker’s goal-kicking advantage has already been eroded. We wouldn’t advise against Croker, particularly as the Raiders should have a good attack once more, but the potential of Aidan Sezer stealing a conversion or two, plus Croker’s steady showing over the past two seasons both indicate that he’s probably at his ceiling already.

Tim Simona (WST – $280,000)

Simona began last season as a potential option for my side, however was eventually discounted as Sia Soliola became a ‘must-have’ in the lead up to Round 1. This year, he remains an option, with his strength and pace rendering him capable of producing high-scoring plays. The issue for Simona is the team he plays for. The Tigers are incredibly inconsistent, with their youthful halves combination more miss than hit at present. A player of Simona’s quality should be scoring more than 5 tries in a season, and he needs to score at least 9 to be considered a good purchase. A run of fixtures between Rounds 8 and 21 (Tigers lost 9 of 10 games in that time) saw Simona average just 19.75 points per game, meaning he averaged 39 points per game either side of that slump. The trouble is that either side of that ‘slump’, the Tigers won 7 and lost 7 games. If you think they’re a fringe Finals team in 2016, without a forward pack and without a developed halves combination, expect an increase from Simona. If you’re like us and believe the Tigers are destined to languish in the cellar of the NRL again, avoid.

Chris Lawrence (WST – $279,000) and Mitchell Aubusson (SYD – $336,000)

Our review of this player has changed following pre-season action/news. Click here to read our update.

Chris Lawrence made for a very interesting mid-2015 pick-up, as his move from the centres to the back row noticeably improved his production. When removing his injury-affected game, Lawrence boasted an average of 75 minutes and 40 points in the second row, however we’re not optimistic that either of those figures will be repeated again this season. Lawrence’s try-scoring record improved following his move, something which is unlikely to be repeated in 2016, whilst the development of Sue, Lovett, Chee-Kam and Sironen will necessitate injury-prone veterans such as Lawrence see a reduction in minutes. There are too many unknowns, even in the Tigers’ weak forward pack to pick a player who needs 80 minutes to perform to an acceptable standard. Lawrence’s injury issues also work against him.

It’s Mitchell Aubusson’s turn to disappoint again. The Sydney Rooster has enormous potential as a fantasy asset, however is never given the opportunity. But with Boyd Cordner set to miss the first 3 months (at the least) of the new NRL season, and the Roosters already severely lacking experience, now could be the time for the experienced utility to step up. Any talk of Aubusson starting in the halves is unlikely to have merit, especially now with Cordner going down, so the only thing to consider is whether Aubusson will be the man to fill the void? When starting in the back row, Aubusson has averaged 49 over the past two seasons. Whilst not an enormous sample size, he’s currently priced at 37.7. Sio Siua Taukeiaho is the other player who could see a boost in production, however we’ll have to observe pre-season and Round 1 team lists to see whether we should take the seemingly annual risk of selecting NRL Fantasy’s least reliable performer. This season however, there is an obvious void in the Roosters forward pack which he has the potential to fill.

Tim Lafai (SGI – $244,000) and Konrad Hurrell (NZW – $231,000)

Our review of this player has changed following pre-season action/news. Click here to read our update.

Two players coming off disappointing years, Lafai and Hurrell are both objectively under-priced. The only concerns we have over them is whether or not they’ll actually get games in 2016. Lafai will be battling youngster Euan Aitken for the right to partner Josh Dugan in the centres, and whilst Lafai showed in 2014 that he was both a dangerous NRL and Fantasy centre, Aitken was the club’s best in the Auckland Nines and in many ways is the future of their back-line. In his 18 games last season, Lafai scored 4 tries, had 4 try-assists, 3 line-breaks and just 27 tackle-breaks. His defensive work remained respectable, however when you consider his 11 tries, 11 try-assists and 100 tackle-busts from 2014, there is clearly room for improvement. Whilst we’re not suggesting he’ll mirror that production this season, should he be named in the vacant Dragons’ centre position, he’ll average north of 33 this season.

Hurrell meanwhile was outshone by Solomone Kata in Auckland, and once again had troubles in defence and with lifting his knees when running at the line. Both will work against him, and when you consider that Lolohea, Vatuvei and presumably Kata already occupy three of the four centre/wing line spots, Hurrell finds himself in a battle with the hulking Ken Maumalo for the Warriors’ final back-line position. Maumalo has obvious advantages, especially when you consider that Lolohea is likely best utilised in a more central role. As a result, it is very easy to see Hurrell missing the Round 1 team list. Even if he did make the cut, would he necessarily make an impact? Excluding games where Hurrell didn’t play 80 minutes in 2015, he still averaged just 27.67 points per game. His tackle-busts were down, his missed tackles were up, and given he never contributes in defence, his running game wasn’t sufficient to make up for that deficiency in his game. Hurrell scored 12 tries in 19 games in 2014, but it was his 3.72 tackle breaks per game which saw him average 40.47 points per game. Hurrell is in better shape than he was last season, but remains a very tentative ‘consider’ as we don’t know the full extent of his probably involvement this season. We’ve toyed with classing him as an ‘avoid’ but there was too much substance to his 2014 for us to dismiss him at his current price.

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Solomone Kata (NZW – $288,000)

It is easy to forget that 2015 was Kata’s debut NRL season. The under-21 prodigy burst into the league with a fantasy average of 38.92 points per game over his first 13 appearances. Over the remaining 11 games of the season, Kata averaged just 24.36 as the Warriors’ season derailed with Shaun Johnson’s season-ending injury. Priced at an average of 32.3, Kata, one year older, stronger and more established in what looms as an improved Warriors side, looks a very good buy. His Auckland Nines campaign was electric, and should he be named in the centres for Round 1, he’s a very tempting prospect. Whilst his 12 tries may not be repeated this season, we expect an improvement on his 52 missed tackles, 79 tackle breaks, 2 try-assists and 112.46 running metres per game. We’re staring at a 40-point average if Kata is given the opportunity to impress this season. If he is named on the win, hold off and buy should he shift inside later in the year.

Will Hopoate (CBY – $264,000) and Dylan Walker (MAN – $332,000)

Will changing clubs lead to improvement in these two young stars? Not necessarily. In the case of Hopoate, it were his physical assets which failed him in 2015, not a lack of opportunity. Injury curtailed the former Manly winger’s Round 22 score, but even if we exclude that from calculations he averaged just 30.89 despite spending an extended period of the season at fullback. Three tries and 3 try-assists will be at the lower end of Hopoate’s production range now he’s in the centres, but improvements in those areas aren’t likely to offset the drop-off in metres and tackle breaks he’s likely to experience. The Bulldogs are playing with what we see as a dysfunctional halves combination this season, and with the tandem of Morris and Rona on the opposite side of the field, there is every chance we’ll see 2015 repeat itself again. Another player at the very low-end of consideration, Hopoate escapes our ‘avoid’ column on the basis of what Des Hasler has been able to do with this prodigious talent in the past.

Dylan Walker meanwhile heads to Manly and looms as their stand-out candidate to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves. Given he’s still a centre/fullback at heart, we’re going to assume he’ll remain predominatly a ball-running option despite donning the number 6 jersey. Our primary concern is that Daly Cherry-Evans is a very dominant playmaker, and in many ways mirrors Adam Reynolds. In Walker’s few appearances alongside Reynolds in 2014, he was underwhelming. His kicking game took a back-seat, his defence wasn’t impeccable and his running game suffered in limited space. Under new mentorship and two years older, things could be different this time around, and we’re more than willing to take a risk. Jamie Lyon has always kicked a bit, Kieran Foran’s production isn’t all going to go to Cherry-Evans, and for a change there is a forward pack behind which the Manly halves can build this season. Walker’s price is prohibitive, but he adopts one of the more established backlines in the NRL and comes off a season in which his 64 tackle-breaks and 6 try-assists in particular could be bettered. There is risk associated with selecting Walker, as his production is contingent on what responsiblity DCE chooses to assume. Walker showed the potential to average 42 in his limited time in the halves at Souths, however when Foran was out injured in 2015, Toovey replaced him with an additional second-rower. As a result of this – and Manly’s appointment of Trent Barrett – we don’t have an insight into what Walker can expect to score alongside Cherry-Evans. Foran averaged 39 last year despite producing just 39 tackle-breaks, scoring 4 tries and posting 12 try-assists.

Kirisome Auva’a (SOU – $139,000)

Our review of this player has changed following pre-season action/news. Click here to read our update.

We’ve classed Auva’a as a player to target, however don’t necessarily believe he should be in your scoring 17 to start the season. Auva’a averaged 19 points per game over his four appearances last season, however those four appearances saw 2014’s stand-out discovery score not tries, and earn no line-breaks, try-assists or line-break assists. Just 5 tackle-breaks, 11 missed tackles and an average of just 92 running metres per game are all figures that can be improved upon, but don’t expect Auva’a to average more than 28 in a Rabbitohs team which is likely to regress this season. If Auva’a averages 30, he’s under-priced by approximately $115,000, making him a must-own, but consider him as more of a cash cow if you’re looking to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Lewis Brown (MAN – $309,000)

Brown is an interesting option, particularly with Jamie Buhrer to miss the first 2-4 rounds of action this season with a broken jaw. Brown will likely play in the back row this season, presenting coaches with the option of an out-of-position player in the centres. Brown however doesn’t boast the same production as someone like Sia Soliola. As a fringe back-rower in a side which traditionally doesn’t boast high-scoring forwards, expect a points-per-minute conversion of approximately 0.5, meaning that even playing 80 minutes on the fringe will likely only see scores in the realm of 40. With Taupau, Leary, Myles, Mateo, Symonds, Lussick, Buhrer all capable of spending time in the back-row however, we’d be surprised to see Brown given more than 60 minutes a game, leaving him in the awkward position of being arguably over-priced.

Michael Jennings ($327,000) and Will Chambers ($352,000)

Our review of this player has changed following pre-season action/news. Click here to read our update.

Two of the more well-rounded centres in the game, Jennings and Chambers are typically very secure fantasy options. Our issue with Jennings is that there appears to be little room for improvement in his 2015 numbers. Jennings averaged 37.44 at the Roosters in 2014, before averaging 36.57 last season. Moving to a club that is arguably not at the same level as those Roosters’ outfits, Jennings has the potential to regress. Kieran Foran isn’t an enormous upgrade on James Maloney, whilst the Eels’ forward pack lacks the go-forward of the Roosters. Semi Radradra may see Jennings earn a few additional try-assists, however should Jennings find himself at right-centre, he could also find himself away from the action. There has been a lot of talk regarding Jennings’ potential at a new club, but we can’t understand how pundits are justifying a 5-8 point increase on his long-term average. Another point to consider is that Jennings’ possible Origin selection would see him miss 5 rounds of action through the Bye and Origin period.

Will Chambers on the other hand remains in Melbourne, however now have Billy Slater roaming the field at fullback. Chambers has an exceptional base of statistical production, with his 2015 averages of 139.04 running metres and 17.74 tackles per game. Chambers average of 39.66 in 2014 demonstrates a consistency, whilst his 21 tries over the past two seasons (11 in 2014, 10 in 2015) show a constant involvement. With Slater returning, expect greater distribution to the wide areas, and with the Titans, Warriors, Knights, Tigers, Warriors again, Titans again, and the Eels as opposition before the Round 12 bye, we see Chambers with at least six tries by the time Origin comes around. If Chambers is called up for Origin, he’ll miss just the three matches, placing him at an advantage when compared to Jennings. We’re tipping an average of 41, with a lot of his overall production coming in the first half of the season.

Our NRL 2016 Ladder Prediction is now LIVE on the website! Where is your side going to finish this coming campaign?

Make sure you’re across our other NRL Fantasy 2016 pre-season positional previews:

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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