NRL Fantasy 2016: Second Row Analysis

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Traditionally the strongest position in NRL Fantasy, the second row provides coaches with not only several difficult decisions, but with an opportunity to set themselves up with a group of reliable, high-scoring players. As in the past, there are three distinct tiers of player at this position: out-and-out guns, potential keepers, and cash cows. Typically, coaches will likely look to stock their team with two players from each category, however value in the mid-range and at other positions may see a change of tactics to begin 2016.

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NRL Fantasy 2016: Second Row Analysis

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Sam Burgess (SOU – $492,000)

Arguably the easiest selection of any player in NRL Fantasy this season, Sam Burgess is heavily undervalued following his misguided stint in Rugby Union. In 2013, Sam Burgess averaged 51.3, whilst in Souths’ Premiership season he averaged 62.57. Priced at an average of 55.03, there is a very strong chance that Burgess, in a weaker Rabbitohs pack and with fewer interchanges at the coaches’ discretion, at least gets close to matching his 2014 production. A slow start to begin the season isn’t out of the question following a year out of the game, however seemingly guaranteed a position at lock in a side carrying a secondary hooker on the bench, we’re expecting price rises from Burgess in the long term. When starting at lock in 2014, Burgess averaged 61 points from 73 minutes of action. Whilst many of his 2014 statistics (particularly his 10 tries) may not be repeatable, his base statistics provide more than enough value. Those not starting the season with him are taking a risk, especially considering that Burgess scored below his current breakeven in just 7 of his 23 games in 2014.

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Jack de Belin (SGI – $429,000) and Mike Cooper (SGI – $466,000)

One of these players will likely experience a breakout campaign, but which one? With Trent Merrin leaving the Dragons, there isn’t a shortage of production on offer at Kograh. De Belin spent most of 2015 coming off the bench, however still managed an average of 57.62 minutes per game. In Merrin’s absence last season, de Belin played just 3 games and averaged 48 points per game, and interestingly is tipped to still come off the bench this season. As a result, it is difficult to see him getting more than 60 minutes of action a game. Whilst de Belin may still provide value, he’s unlikely to provide the kind of value necessary to justify his selection.

Cooper meanwhile is a workhorse. A brilliant defender with the capacity to break tackles and score tries. In 2015, he averaged 55.35 minutes per game, however averaged 52.09, some 4.04 more than de Belin. If anything he looms as the player to earn more minutes in Merrin’s absence, with a shift from the front-row to lock allegedly on the cards. In the 5 games where Cooper played over 60 minutes, he averaged 61.2 last season, an increase of 9 points or almost $82,000 on his current price point. Notably, Cooper’s production comes primarily in base statistics, with his 845 tackles coming at a 98% success rate. With scope to improve his metre gain average of 113.57 per game and his tackle break average of 1.57 per game, Cooper is the player – alongside Ah Mau – that we expect to benefit from Merrin’s departure.

Trent Merrin (PEN – $485,000) and Bryce Cartwright (PEN – $357,000)

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

Trent Merrin is the cause of much conjecture in fantasy-land. His departure from the Dragons has led to uncertainty, whilst his arrival in Penrith has similarly brought many seeming certainties – Cartwright’s development, Elijah Taylor’s work-rate, James Segeyaro’s base statistics – into some doubt. Last season, Merrin averaged 54.21 points from just 54.05 minutes per game. In 2014 Merrin averaged 55.24 minutes per game, an issue considering that a change of coach didn’t see his opportunities change. At a new club though, and with his salary constituting a large commitment by the Panthers, there is an outside chance Merrin sees more minutes as he notes ‘his development’ is one of the main reasons for him moving to Penrith. Merrin very rarely disappoints owners, and his average correlates strongly with his minutes on the park. At the Panthers, regardless of whether he is in the front row or at lock, we’re expecting 58 minutes and an average of almost 60. His offload should find support with Segeyaro, whilst his work rate and general ball-playing have a hint of Corey Parker about them – a player who thrived under Griffin’s tutelage.

Cartwright is a little less established as a fantasy option. Last year he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to make good his talent, and whilst an average of 39.95 is acceptable given his average of 53 minutes per game, he needs to be a 70+ minute player to be considered a viable option. The issue confronting coaches is that Merrin, Peachey, Cartwright, Taylor and Yeo are all capable of playing big minutes. With only 240 minutes on offer in the back row, Anthony Griffin will need to distribute opportunities between at least four class options. Should Cartwright be provided with more minutes, have confidence in his ability to improve his scores. His three 80-minute efforts in the back half of last season saw him average 57, whilst his average from Round 12 onwards was 47.54 from 58.23 minutes. Expect an increase on his 2 try-assists, 42 tackle-breaks and even his 5 tries even if Cartwright’s minutes don’t increase. In all, anything over 60 minutes per game represents value for Cartwright given his attacking potential, however how Griffin uses him will remain a sticking point for prospective investors.

Elijah Taylor (PEN – $441,000) and Ethan Lowe (NQC – $420,000)

Two players who enjoyed largely successful campaigns last season, Taylor and Lowe are ‘avoid’ candidates, but for different reasons. Taylor is a speculative option, as his production is entirely contingent on big minutes and a large defensive workload. There is no greater illustration of this than the fact that on 11 occasions last season, Taylor’s tackle count exceeded his total fantasy score. No other player boasts such a myopic approach to productivity, and with Merrin now joining the club, it is an approach that is under threat. Taylor is almost guaranteed to not play 80 minutes this season, whilst he may even be forced to deal with very minimal time off the bench. His lack of a running game leaves Anthony Griffin with few ways in which to utilise the New Zealand international, meaning that we should know after Round 1 whether Taylor will hold any relevance this season. Our prediction? He won’t.

Ethan Lowe meanwhile made a transition midway through 2015 from the centre third of the ground to the right edge. With most of the Cowboys’ attacking traffic heading to Gavin Cooper’s fringe, or utilising Lowe as a decoy, his fantasy success became contingent on how many times he had to cover for Johnathan Thurston’s defensive assignments. From Round 13 onwards, Lowe averaged just 40.5 points per game, a notable drop from his effort of 54.45 points per game over the opening 11 rounds. Unless a change in tactics is evident early in the new season, Lowe is a no-go, even if he crosses the line for a couple of tries early in the campaign.

Joseph Tapine (NEW – $269,000)

Nathan Brown has made it clear that should a player sign elsewhere, they will cease to be a significant part of his plans for this coming season. Whilst Tapine shows incredibly potential, his decision to sign for Canberra from 2017 onwards means that he loses all fantasy appeal. Even if Tapine is released from his contract early, don’t expect the youngster to crack the Raiders’ packed back row contingent.

Simon Mannering (NZW – $535,000) and Corey Parker (BRI – $559,000)

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

Shifting to lock in 2015 after years spent as a fringe back-rower with utility value in the centres, Simon Mannering became a fantasy superstar. Playing 80 minutes in 17 of his 24 appearances, and never playing below 68 minutes, the Warriors’ captain is as reliable as he is productive. With just 3 scores below 50 and 9 above 65, there are few players who can compare, particularly in the sense that the majority of his production comes from base statistics. A total of 1092 completed tackles and an average of 105 running metres per game, Mannering’s base statistic production between those two categories is a staggering 55 points. With just 1 try, 1 try assist and 29 tackle breaks last season, Mannering has the potential to actually increase his output this season. With the Warriors now favouring others to cover in the centres in case of injury, Mannering is almost assured 80 minutes in the engine-room each game, making him a reliable captaincy option. A repeat of last season’s effort is likely, and whilst he doesn’t boast the ceiling of Fifita or Gallen, his durability makes it a worthwhile sacrifice. In four fewer years as an NRL player, Simon Mannering has played just 20 fewer games than Paul Gallen. He has missed just 1 game over the past 3 seasons.

After an incredibly underwhelming Round 1 showing last season, Corey Parker returned to his usual, productive and fantasy relevant self. Parker’s lowest score for the remainder of the season was 49, whilst he broke the 60-point barrier in 11 of his 21 total games. Origin obligations will see him miss just 3 games this season, and whilst Parker’s minutes will not noticeably deviate from the 62 minutes he averaged last season, neither will his role. A goal-kicker for a potent side, Parker’s PPM rate is good enough to tolerate his reduction in playing time. With 3 tries and 58 conversions not necessarily world-beating attacking statistics, there is scope for Parker to improve, however after a season in which he was rested through Origin, another year older, and playing a role we know won’t change, Parker is only a worthwhile investment as a captaincy option.

Martin Taupau (MAN – $446,000)

A different type of fantasy prospect, Taupau’s production is entirely contingent on his ball-running ability. His 4.33 tackle breaks per game make for good reading, but based on his potential and even his performance in the NRL All-Stars game, Taupau could be in for a huge 2016. Averaging 49.05 minutes per outing in 2015, a change of club could see a change in role. With Manly not boasting too much dynamic depth in the front row however, expect a similar impact for Taupau this season. Despite a coaching change, Manly’s forward stocks haven’t provided much in the way of fantasy relevance for a few seasons now, primarily because they boast depth without necessarily having any elite fantasy players. In Taupau, they have the potential to build a game-breaking forward, however until we see a change in role, there is little reason to believe that Taupau will necessarily improve his standing as a fantasy asset this season.

Jason Taumalolo (NQC – $391,000) and Sio Siua Taukeiaho (SYD – $378,000)

Heading into the 2015 season, Jason Taumalolo was heralded as a fantasy bargain. We resisted the temptation to select him off the back of a destructive Auckland Nines campaign and were rewarded, as Taumalolo not only failed to average anywhere near his touted 80 minutes, but was nowhere near as destructive as a runner as many predicted. His 71 tackle-breaks were acceptable, however just 2 tries and 4 line-breaks failed to offset a lacklustre defensive showing (20.78 tackles per game). In many ways, it is difficult to see Taumalolo’s production decreasing this season. He hit 100 running metres in all-but one of his non-injury affected games in 2015, whilst another season of development alongside Johnathan Thurston is sure to see him run lines with greater effectiveness. Gavin Cooper is unlikely to have the same influence this season, and it would surprise to see Taumalolo average less than 45 this current season. The reason Taumalolo is just a ‘consider’ is that his minutes don’t correlate with his production. His success as a fantasy player is entirely dependent on the strength of his runs, not the number of them. As a result he cannot be relied upon with any certainty. He’s also selected in 10% of teams and is hardly a point of difference.

Taukeiaho was one of the breakout stars of 2015, however now priced at the top-end of the mid-range bracket. He makes our ‘consider’ list as a potential beneficiary of Boyd Cordner’s injury. With 80 minutes available in the second row, we feel Mitchell Aubusson is the favourite, however should Taukeiaho find himself with increased responsibility, he becomes almost a must-have player. In games where he played more than 60 minutes, Taukeiaho averaged 63.67 last season. His main detraction is that he is an impact player capable of being called upon for 30-40 minute stints. Last season, SST scored at 0.98 points per minute, a figure which was largely unaffected by how long he spent on the park. Accommodate a slight reduction for him being stationed on a fringe as opposed to through the middle, and you’re looking at a PPM of 0.8 for 60 minutes, or an average of 48 points (at the very worst). This average would see him increase of $53,000, and whilst it is largely speculative, SST being named in the starting side for the Roosters essentially renders one of your slots in the back row taken.

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Josh Jackson (CBY – $432,000)

Josh Jackson began 2015 as a potential breakout candidate in our books, however a slow start distracted us from what eventually became a well-rounded season. From Round 5 onwards, Jackson averaged 51.48 from 74.06 minutes. With the interchange adjustments, Jackson will become an 80 minute player – if he isn’t considered that already – and with his days of covering in the centres hopefully a thing of the past, he should avoid the occasional scoring let-down. An average of 53 is in order for a player capable of improving in every statistical category. A potential Origin recall could see Jackson miss 4 games through the bye period, however he’ll remain a reliable point of difference candidate.

Robbie Rochow (NEW – $305,000) and Gavin Cooper (NQC – $435,000)

Two fringe back rowers, Cooper comes off a stellar 2015 campaign, whilst Rochow is arguably under-priced as he returns from injury. After a slow start to his 2015 season (averaged 33.75 points over the opening month), Gavin Cooper became a fantasy stud. His 9 tries and respectable defensive workload saw him average 51.79 over the remaining 19 games of the season, however we’re doubtful of a repeat performance in 2016. In an injury-curtailed 2014 campaign, Cooper averaged 40.6 points in an average of 68 minutes work – a relatively consistent PPM effort – however we’re doubtful the Cowboys’ forward will find the try line with similar effectiveness this coming season. Taumalolo and the Cowboys’ right flank will have to improve in attack, whilst opposition defences will have done their work on the various lines an experienced campaigner like Cooper is capable of running.

Given a starting berth at the Knights in 2015, Robbie Rochow’s season was horribly curtailed by injuries. An average of 40.2 points per game (63.4 minutes), despite having one appearance drastically shortened by injury means that coaches could expect an average of 50.73 points per game if Rochow is given 80 minutes per game. With the Knights’ back row struggling for depth, particularly given the suspension to Tariq Sims to start the season, don’t be surprised if Rochow hits that mark. As a result, we could see his price trend towards the $445,000 mark as Origin comes around.

Elliot Whitehead (CAN – $313,000) and Shaun Fensom (CAN – $499,000)

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

Fensom is a prototypical fantasy gun – a big tank, terrific work rate and a consistent performer. In 2015, Fensom saw a reduction in minutes however, and averaged just 67 minutes of action per game after averaging 79.06 minutes per outing in games unaffected by injury in 2014. As a result, Fensom’s average fell from 58.61 to 55.78. Typically, we’d identify Fensom as having scope to increase his minutes this season, however with the addition of Englishman Elliott Whitehead, there are fewer minutes on offer in the Raiders’ back row than there were last season. Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola or even Fensom may find themselves spending some time in the front row, however until we have evidence to go on, there is no reason to believe Fensom will improve this season under Ricky Stuart’s stewardship.

Whitehead meanwhile is set to begin the season coming off the bench. At $313,000, the Englishman will need to score just 35 to breakeven, a relatively conservative mark when you consider he made 937 tackles, 79 tackle breaks, 52 offloads, 24 line-breaks and scored 11 tries in the Super League last season. All of those marks were better than Sia Soliola’s in the season preceding his return to the NRL, so with Shillington and Dane Tilse having left the Raiders and with a combination of back-rowers set to fill the void up front, don’t be surprised to see Elliot averaging 45 or more in 65 minutes of action this 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.

10 Comments

    • Thanks Trevor! Pretty much guaranteed 80 minutes, our main concern with Graham is whether or not he keeps up his 2015 involvement now that the Sharks boast a good halves combination. If you assume Townsend directly replaces Robson, you’re looking at Bird v Maloney when comparing last season to this year. Maloney will kick more, is more creative and will have more touches than Bird. Graham thrives when ball-playing – he scored 80 points in general-play kicking metres last season for example. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him score a couple more tries, but with his minutes set to remain the same, there isn’t a super obvious reason for him to develop a lot more as a fantasy asset, particularly with Fifita and Gallen both fit to start the year.

      In summary: Great player, capable of increasing his scoring a little, but has too much competition for base statistics to jump too much. Will lose kicking metres (about 3 points per game) too which should offset small increases in other areas. Average of 48-50 in my books but as far as players go that I’m not sold on, he’s one of the better ones.

    • Hey Clint, good to have you on board again this season! Ah Mau is a potential stud this year, we’ve covered his prospects in our FRF article. For Rate My Team stuff, just head over to our FB page and put a comment on our wall and we’ll give you our thoughts!

          • The Titans forward pack will be interesting. Greg Bird hasn’t been named for trials this week though, meaning the 240 minutes in the back row there will have to be shared with him as well. McQueen and Bird are clearly their best players, whilst Paasi, Burr and whoever else is on the bench will take minutes. He’s looked good in trials but I’m not convinced by their rotation enough to take a punt myself.

          • Zeb Taia getting a lot of wraps heading into the season. Could be worth a punt, Clint. Decent chance he plays big minutes and averaged quite well back in 2012 in the NRL. Watch out for errors and missed tackles though. Whitehead still a slightly better buy in my books.

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