NRL Fantasy Analysis – Round 4

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Blindside Sport continues its weekly edition of ‘NRL Fantasy Analysis’, this time looking forward to Round 4 of the 2014 NRL Premiership. You can find the archive of articles through this link

Concussion remains a big talking point after Round 3, especially following the fantasy impact of Greg Inglis’ injury on Friday night and the discussion that will inevitably flow from Liam Fulton being knocked out for the second time in three weeks. That is an issue best left for another time, however many fantasy coaches (52,000 to give you an indication) will be disgruntled following the scoring implications of Tim Simona, Inglis and Fulton being withdrawn early in Friday’s clash.

Isaac Luke’s injury, Josh Mansour, Chase Stanley and Peter Wallace’s late withdrawals also provide sore spots, with a further 40,000 coaches attached to at least one of those players. Suspension to George Burgess (14,792 selections), Tinirau Arona (15,522) losing his starting spot and the continual disappointment that are elite halves in 2014 are other issues we’ll be discussing.

The Blindside Rankings

With early-season issues with the NRL.com fantasy rankings seemingly resolved, we’ll be keeping you updated with how the three participants on our team are faring.

After 3 rounds, the standings are as follows:

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Not playing Manu Ma’u as a reserve was my biggest error of the week, with his 56 points surpassing all but 3 of my players’ scores. Willie Tonga’s 45 also surpassed Jack Wighton’s 32, but who saw that coming? Aside form that, there is little to report with 8 players scoring 40-50 points is a very consistent yet unexceptional week.

James Adler and Nick Francis were both impacted by Inglis-gate on Friday, costing them serious ground on the competition. James continues to ride the wave of Robbie Farah’s success, whilst he can also boast Johnathan Thurston as his elite half. Benching Michael Morgan and mistakenly selecting Dale Copley as a reserve ahead of Michael Dobson were the biggest errors he made selection-wise this round.

Nick meanwhile left Shaun Fensom on his field. Why? We’re asking the same question.

The Strategy Corner

All-in-all, with Nathan Peats returning this past round and Fifita and Fensom set to join him in Round 4, this latest weekend has given us relatively few serious issues to address. With that in mind, there are plenty of over and under-performing players we’ll be discussing. Here are a few moves you might like to look at pursuing.

Trade-Saving | As always, the favoured option. Most players will have traded so far this season, however if you’re heading into Round 4 on less than 30 trades, you’re going to want to slow down. Aside from John Palavi (16,049), no rookie with over 15,000 selections is worth offloading at this stage.

Downgrade – Upgrade | The new price-change formula means that rookies bolt a little slower than in previous years. This allows coaches to come later to the party than in the past. If you have an under performing mid-priced player (Brenton Lawrence), you can still trade him to a rookie-priced player with room to grow (Manu Ma’u) and then upgrade a fellow-mid priced player for an elite.

The Sideways Trade | At this stage of the season, very few elite players are warranting being traded out. Trust your pre-season research and give all teams a chance to settle into a pattern in 2014. There are only several players we’d advise you to move on at this stage of the season and we’ll get to them a little later on. Resist the temptation to sideways Cameron Smith to Robbie Farah or James Graham to Sam Burgess on the basis of a couple of scores. Unless a player’s role changes, there is no need to panic.

Rookie Wrap

With just 3 rounds behind us, rookies are still arguably the most important asset to your Fantasy line-up. In almost every instance, your current stock of ‘cash cows’ are yet to mature, however in the interest of making you as much money as possible, and ensuring you’re choosing the right rookies to ‘reserve’ each week, we’ll give you the rundown nevertheless.

The biggest news to emerge from Round 3 is Isaac Luke’s shoulder injury, requiring survey and necessitating the hooker miss up to 10 weeks of NRL action. Whilst unfortunate for many coaches with the diminutive number 9 in their side, the injury creates an opportunity for Apisai Koroisau to appear in First-Grade. Whilst he is unlikely to be an 80 minute player immediately and is only available as a hooker, those looking to differentiate their sides should look very closely at him.

In other news, as expected, Nathan Peats’ (44) return to Parramatta side entrenched his status as the best cheapie available in 2014. Manu Ma’u (56), Tinirau Arona (42) and Ben Hunt (81) continue to heap pressure on the hooker at the top of the rankings. All are viable reserve candidates week-to-week.

Willie Tonga and Matthew Allwood continued to display their value in the centres, while Dale Copley’s disappointing score of 11 isn’t enough to deter us given his Origin-time utility. All are worth holding for the time being. Manly debutant Tony Satini isn’t worth watching at this stage of the season, given Kieren Foran’s imminent return and unlikelihood of Manly’s back-line being overly disturbed during Origin.

In the halves, Luke Brooks’ increased role in the Wests Tigers kicking game has drastically increased his fantasy value. In Round 3 against South Sydney, Brooks made 315m with the boot, a vast difference from his 225m combined across Rounds 1 and 2. Michael Dobson has adopted more of a dominant playmaking role than many predicted, whilst Michael Witt’s injury appears set to linger longer than first anticipated, causing the coaches who stuck by him a headache as to whether they should retain faith.

Up front, Kane Evans production isn’t significant enough to render him worth burning a trade, however the Roosters’ bye schedule makes him valuable throughout the Origin period. Meanwhile, Mike Cooper’s average of 44.33 makes him a steal, even at around $250,000. Manly’s Josh Starling has shown Manly’s historically unimpressive front-row (in fantasy) makes no exceptions, even if he continues to start. Sione Lousi has retained his starting spot in the Warriors’ 17 for Round 4, making him a very attractive (and still very cheap) option. Jason King will miss Round 4 after accepting a 1-match suspension. Finally, having been named to start, Raider Shannon Boyd becomes a viable purchase, having averaged 27.67 in the early part of the season, despite receiving just 29 minutes an appearance.

In terms of rookies you should look to sell, John Palavi’s omission from the Warriors’ 17 renders him expendable, especially given the value still on offer at the back row position. Corey Paterson’s standing at Wests Tigers means he should also be discarded with his spot in the 17 seemingly entirely dependent on whether Liam Fulton is conscious. Also at the Tigers, Jaes Gavet’s dual-poitison eligibility isn’t enough to convince us he’s worth keeping, given his very modest average (17.67). Todd Carney’s return also means that Daniel Holdsworth (whilst set to increase in value) will score less-reliably than in the opening rounds and is a strong candidate to be upgraded if you’re looking closely at your halves.

Buy

Fullbacks | It may have taken a full season, but the Roosters have finally decided to utilise Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to his full potential. Playing fullback in attack and on the wing in defence, Tuivasa-Sheck is poised to register career-highs in attacking statistics and should improve on his current average of 33.67.

Centres | We said it at the start of the season and we’ll say it again, Jarrod Croker is a bargain! He may have risen in price but don’t let that deter you from a player we deem a ‘set and forget’. Despite an average performance on the weekend, Jamaal Idris is also tempting us. The young Penrith centre has racked up a total of 88 points across his two games, and that is without scoring a try.

Halves | Gareth Widdop remains the dominant playmaker at the Dragons’ and as such, remains on our ‘Buy’ list. As mentioned above, Luke Brooks’ increased role within the Tigers’ kicking game makes him an attractive option for those looking to downgrade an under performing elite. Todd Carney’s return for Cronulla also makes him an appealing option. At just $320,942 and alongside a make-shift partner in Holdsworth, the former NSW representative presents terrific value.

Back Row | Returning from suspension this week, Shaun Fensom’s average of 70 leads all back rowers in the 2014 season. Evidently a more reliable alternative to Corey Parker at this stage season, consider him an Origin-period-friendly ‘must have’ at the position.

Front Row | Andrew Fifita’s return and the continued absence of Paul Gallen makes him arguably the most attractive option this week. Whilst difficult to orchestrate a move to bring in the incredibly expensive front-rower, his returns will be unparalleled over the coming month. At a cheaper price point, Mike Cooper presents terrific value and given the generally diminutive stature of the Dragons’ front row, his involvement and 40 points per week are almost guaranteed.

Hookers | If you don’t own Nathan Peats, get him. The Parramatta hooker is an 80 minute player and priced as a rookie. More than that, he’s a keeper. Need we say more?

Sell

Fullbacks | Ben Hampton’s time as a viable fantasy option ended with the return of Cooper Cronk. After 265 kicking metres in Round 1, Hampton has combined for just 17m further in Rounds 2 and 3. Consider replacing him your top priority.

Centres | The return of Tim Simona should render Keith Leiluia expendable at Wests Tigers, making his relative early-season short-lived. Chris Lawrence’s injury issues always necessitate a 3rd first-class centre, however their fantasy production will never be worthy of a spot in your squad. A popular cheap option in pre-season, Brad Tighe has shown repeatedly this season why he was priced so enticingly. Allwood and Tonga are better options to field, meaning that Tighe has no place in your team aside from possible Origin-time bye coverage.

Halves | This call is premature, however with the return of Todd Carney, Daniel Holdsworth is the most expendable rookie half if you’re looking to bring in a more elite and reliable option.

Back Row | David Taylor, Wade Graham, Jayson Bukuya, Joel Riethmuller and Alex McKinnon all make this list. A combination or poor form, limited opportunities, being dropped and breaking your neck all contribute to their presence. In saying that, we join the entire Rugby League community in wishing Alex the best as he begins a long road to recovery. If you have any of the above names, you should look to ensure that you don’t by Friday night.

Front Row | Brenton Lawrence spurned his last chance in many fantasy sides with another sub-par performance this past week. His 31 points were somehow less than his disappointing season-average of 32. The emergence of Mike Cooper and the return of several players to St George’s depleted front row stocks means that Ben Creagh is no longer receiving minutes in the engine room. With that, he’s about as valuable as Ryan Hoffman or Justin Horo. Finally, Jared Waerea-Hargeaves also finds himself on this list. Somehow, 13,991 coaches still boast this ill-disciplined New Zealander in their squads. Shame on you.

Hookers | Requiring surgey and therefore likely to miss upwards of 10 weeks, Isaac Luke must leave your side immediately. Meanwhile, Michael Lichaa is evidently out of favour in Cronulla having signed for the Bulldogs following his NRL debut in Round 2. The 1294 coaches with his name on your team sheet should abandon ship.

Hold

Fullbacks | Michael Morgan’s performance against the Warriors in Round 3 reminded many of why the former halfback was given the Cowboys vacant number 1 jersey to start the season. Fast, strong and will an elite passing game, those who benched (Blindside Sport co-founder James Adler) or sold him prior to this breakout performance were left kicking themselves.

Centres | If you’ve had Dylan Walker through Round 2’s injury-affected score and Round 3’s late withdrawal, you’re stuck with him. Hope that he makes the most of a favourable upcoming schedule and rewards you for your patience. Meanwhile underwhelming showings for Alex Glenn, Will Hopoate and Dale Copley are no reason to panic. Glenn is a reliable 100m, 20 tackle player unlikely to ever drop below 30 points, Hopoate will improve throughout the season and Copley is still making your side excessive amounts of cash.

Halves | Aidan Sezer’s absense in Round 3 and continued inferiority to Albert Kelly does (and should) have many coaches self-pitying. Keep the faith though, with the Titan’s origin-schedule reason alone to keep the dominant half from one of the NRL’s perennially mid-table sides. If Sezer is out again this week (as many are predicting at this early stage), it may then be time to re-evaluate. We’d still hold him though…

Back Row | Sonny Bill Williams is just 1 week away from his NRL return. If you’ve come this far, resist the temptation to bring in Fensom, Fifita, Merrin or anyone else at his expense. Speaking of brain snaps, Corey Parker has been the best back rower in fantasy for several seasons in a row. Despite playing just 70 minutes a game, he still averages 55.67 and will be in the Top 4 at the position come the end of the season. His dual-position eligibility just makes him that much more attractive, meaning that the whispers of coaches dropping him are almost 100% unjustified.

Front Row | James Graham’s minutes have decreased and George Burgess is under-performing and suspended for a week. Both players have had their scores affected by truly bizarre matches in previous weeks. Graham was rested in the Bulldogs’ demolition of Cronulla and Burgess was caught up in the 80-minute brawl that was Souths v Wests last Friday. Keep the faith with both.

Hookers | Robbie Farah may have out-scored Andrew McCullough in Round 3, but remember why you bought the Broncos’ tackling-machine – dominant base-statistics, no Origin, greater affordability and an increase in minutes. Don’t panic now with just 7 weeks until Origin 1.

Avoid

Fullbacks | Jarryd Hayne may have been called up to kick goals on the weekend (a responsibility he’ll relinquish with Chris Sandow back in the side), however in carrying an ankle issue, the notoriously injury prone, Origin winger has very little going for him at this stage of the season. Further, if you didn’t start the season with Greg Inglis, don’t jump on the bandwagon now. He’ll miss a minimum of 5 games across the Origin period and is set for a price fall following his concussion-induced failure on Friday night.

Centres | After a blistering start to the season and a welcome boost to their overall rankings, Pat Richards owners are finally going to have the selection of a winger (even if they are a goalkicker) catch up with them. That is ‘Fantasy 101 ‘Avoid at all Costs’. Similarly, Mahe Fonua’s move to the centres was terrific for his production, however the natural winger appears likely to revert back to the flank in the near future. Finally, as many long-serving fantasy coaches would know, Mitchell Aubusson is a trap. Despite incredible production in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, the points will dry up when his 80 minutes are cut to approximately 40 off the bench.

Halves | Daly Cherry-Evans is an elite playmaker, however his knee injury has limited his kicking game and his decision-making has been largely appalling this season thus far. Avoid him if possible.

Back Row | John Sutton is struggling with the captaincy and workload of playing in the forward pack. After a trip into the halves in Round 3, the Souths skipper is set to return to playing 60 minutes at lock with Dylan Walker poised to return to the fray. Whilst he may see an increase in productivity following the injury to Isaac Luke, don’t expect miracles. On the concussion front, Liam Fulton is a no-go for the rest of the season in our books. Two head-knocks in 3 weeks under the new concussion rules doesn’t bode well for a player priding themselves on an ability to get whacked in the head and keep making tackles. On a more controversial note, despite Tariq Sims having a standout game against the Warriors last weekend, he scored just 6 more points than Jason Taumololo and boasts less job security. Without seeing more, we’re unwilling to take the risk.

Front Row | A pre-season injury has destroyed Ryan James’ early-season appeal, and until he returns to his normal 60-minute standards, we’re unwilling to touch him. Meanwhile, despite an impressive showing against Canberra, Nate Myles’ Origin selection will have him out for at least 5 games in the next 3 months. On the other side of the NSW/QLD divide, fellow Origin player Aaron Woods just hasn’t been very good and poses too much of a risk for a player also set to miss 5 games in the middle of the season.

Tinirau Arona is the most controversial player to make our list. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon already, we recommend staying off. The return of Andrew Fifita will be the first of many for the injury-striken Sharks, and whilst Arona will still score respectably, Manu Ma’u comes in at $10,037 less expensive and will not see his role change anywhere near as dramatically as his Cronulla counterpart.

Hookers | At hooker, a pair of Friends are on our no-go list for various reasons. The Roosters’ ability to dominate opponents has seen Daniel Mortimer increase his role with the side at the expense of Jake Friend. Whilst unlikely to happen against stronger opponents, the reigning Premiers should find themselves running away with most fixtures this season. Nathan Friend meanwhile comes off a tackling masterclass against the Cowboys, however his inability to produce in any other scoring department renders him a second-tier option.

Pearce’s Pride

After scoring 875 as part of another solid week, Pearce’s Pride welcomes Shaun Fensom back into the starting line-up. As a result, Jason Taumololo is pushed to the bench at the expense of Michael Dobson.

Cameron Smith should retain captaincy duties against a forward-heavy Bulldogs line-up likely to give the tackle-happy hooker a lot of work, but Fifita, Parker and particularly Shaun Fensom are viable candidates, the latter coming up against the Rabbitohs and likely to make at least 55 tackles.

In terms of trades, bringing in Andrew Fifita is our top priority, however whether it eventuates is another story. At this stage, the Shark would have to be brought in at the expense of 2015 teammate James Graham, or Sam Burgess, both of whom are Origin-period gold given their bye schedules and English heritage. Other alternatives to offload are Corey Parker, Trent Merrin and Shaun Fensom.

I’d be interested in hearing which of those (if any) you’d oust to bring in Fifita, the tackle-bust machine.

Answering Your Questions

Q: Should I hold or sell Greg Inglis given his concussion in Round 3?

A: Inglis has been named, however there will of course be doubts over his availability until the weekend. Unlike Liam Fulton in Round 2, the Rabbitohs don’t have to travel anywhere so we won’t get an early indication as to he unavailability either. If he doesn’t play, the likelihood of his value decreasing and with there only being 6 further weeks until Origin begins and Inglis becomes a ‘must sell’, perhaps offloading him isn’t the worst option if you can see a viable alternative and have somewhere else you’d like to use the cash.

Q: Who do you think the top 3 Back Rowers will be by the end of the year?

A: Shaun Fensom, Corey Parker and Trent Merrin lead that category as we speak and it is hard to see any of them falling out of contention. If you select Parker and Merrin in the front row, Sam Burgess (currently 7th as a back rower) will be hard to beat, especially given his favourable bye schedule and Origin ineligibility.

Q: What made you think Jarrod Croker would be such a fantasy success this year?

In full disclosure, Croker was priced fairly highly heading into this season so we weren’t necessarily pulling a name completely left-field. We just felt that he was getting very little consideration given his proven record. In 2013, Croker averaged 33.62 points per contest, however averaged 44.33 points in his last 3 matches and a finished the year on a 5-game stretch in which he averaged 38.20 points. With a high score of 73, his ceiling is undoubted and in presumably retaining goal-kicking duties under Ricky Stuart, his scoring floor was guaranteed to be five to six points higher than other centres.

Contact the Team

In the comments section below, you can ask myself or NRL lead writer Daniel Boss any question you have regarding Fantasy or the NRL in general.

Otherwise, head over to the NRL Dream Team forum to ask anything fantasy-related.

Finally, keep an eye out for our weekly Podcast in the lead up to Round 4.

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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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