NRL Supercoach 2016: Halfback Analysis

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When compared with NRL Fantasy, Supercoach halves analysis is far more entertaining. As there is a far stronger correlation between quality play and productivity, we find ourselves looking at more than kicking metres, and instead try to predict what the team dynamic at any particular club will look like in 2016. Whilst there are several clear-cut cash cow options and a few guaranteed performers, we’ll spend the majority of this article discussing the mid-range options which could assist you differentiating your side from the majority.

With NRL Supercoach differentiating between the halfback and 5/8 position, some of the players you may expect to be covered in this article may be covered in the column dedicated to the 5/8 position.

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 Supercoach 2016 pre-season positional previews:

Also, if you want to see when each of the players covered below will be available over the Bye/Origin period, check out our Bye and Origin planner for 2016.

NRL Supercoach 2016: Halfback Analysis

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Our general strategy at the position this year is fairly simple. Given all of the cash cow value available, it seems foolish to run with several elite players. We’re leaning towards running with one established gun, one mid-ranged player with scope to improve, and two cash cows between the two halves positions. Preferably you will have some dual-position interaction between the two spots, and in the interests of bye coverage and having an insurance policy, you won’t have both cash cows in the same position. Still, we’re giving you some fundamental analysis on some of the players you should be looking to ‘target’, ‘avoid’ and ‘consider’ at halfback in 2016.

Johnathan Thurston (NQC – $486,900) and Shaun Johnson (NZW – $445,800)

The only reason Thurston isn’t an automatic selection is that the only direction in which he can trend this season is downwards. His 3 tries were below what we’d expect, but his 80 conversions and 28 try-assists were both incredible feats. With the Cowboys winning the Premiership in 2015, teams will lift against them this season, potentially meaning the great ‘JT’ won’t have as much room in which to operate. Having averaged 81.95 in 2014 and 76 in 2013, a mark of 77 in 2015 probably represents his long-term average. His average of almost 50 points per game in attacking statistics alone is the primary reason for this incredible consistency over the past 3 seasons. As a captaincy choice, he’s almost unparalleled however, and whilst his scope for improvement is very limited he’s a lock to be a Top 3 option at the position.

Personally, and at great risk, I’m higher on Shaun Johnson for this season than I am Johnathan Thurston. There is scope of Johnson to regress with the addition of Luke and Tuivasa-Sheck, however if anything, those two pieces will provide a touch of consistency to a potentially devastating outfit. Johnson notched several outstanding scores last year, with his mid-season try-scoring streak showing off his ceiling. With 8 tires, 11 try-assists and 13 line-breaks a season ago (18 games), Johnson has a decent body of work to build off this season, and whilst it may be a tough act to follow, the Warriors’ attack could be in for special things this season. Say hello to the new number 1 halfback in Supercoach for 2016 provided he stays fit.

Tyrone Roberts (GCT – $260,500) and Aidan Sezer (CAN – $376,900)

Few players this season will have as much added responsibility as Roberts. Moving from a Knights team where he was a fill-in half or utility for the most part, Roberts will now be a senior playmaker with goal-kicking duties in a rebuilding side trapped in a difficult market. With his kicking game likely to increase in prominence, Roberts is also set to improve on his 3 tries, 5 try-assists and 4 line-breaks from a season ago. There was nothing exceptional about Roberts 2015 campaign, and seeing as he is moving into Aidan Sezer’s role with the Titans, we should expect him to average closer to the former Titans’ 59.61 as opposed to his 2015 effort of 41.19.

Sezer meanwhile moves to a Canberra club which boasts an established Blake Austin as a principal attacking half and a first-class goal-kicker in Jarrod Croker. Sezer is an avoid purely on his loss of goal-kicking duties, however that he’ll now share playmaking duties is another reason to avoid. Canberra functioned well with their 7 controlling the action around Austin last season, so expect Ricky Stuart to implement a similar strategy this season.

Jackson Hastings (SYD – $133,300) and James Maloney (CRO – $418,900)

Our Hastings recommendation doesn’t really need any explanation. He’s set to play a near-identical role to Tyrone Roberts this season – a ball-running player set to assume principal playmaking, kicking and goal-kicking duties for a side boasting no real established halves combination. If we’re recommending Roberts at $260,500, then Hastings looms as a ‘must-have’. The Roosters’ halves combination of Maloney and Pearce averaged almost 119 points per game last season, and whilst the side is likely to regress following key losses in the off-season, it is safe to assume that a decent portion of the revised amount will go to Hastings. He has been developed as the club’s future in the halves, and with Jayden Nikorima even less experienced, we’re expecting a big season from Hastings. A predicted average of 48 is conservative.

Daly Cherry-Evans (MAN – $385,700)

Coming off a season in which he had 18 try-assists, Cherry-Evans will likely assume even greater playmaking duties this season. Don’t be surprised to see DCE operating on both sides of the ruck now that Kieran Foran has moved to Parramatta, with Dylan Walker playing in a more traditional 5/8 role at second receiver. Niggling injuries forced the Manly half to take a back seat at times last season, and his 4 tries weren’t down on his long-term average, however he ran less (15 fewer running metres per game) and delegated to Foran and even Lyon on occasion. The opportunity to work more closely with Manly’s left-edge attack will only improve his production. Manly improved down the straight last season and will look to bring that momentum into 2016. Cherry-Evans will be a big part of that.

Adam Reynolds (SOU – $345,900) and Trent Hodkinson (NEW – $293,200)

Adam Reynolds boasts arguably the most accomplished short kicking game in the NRL. When you add that to his consistency as a playmaker, goal-kicking responsibilities and the Rabbitohs’ lack of a ball-playing 5/8, Reynolds’ 2016 looms as being as productive as his previous campaigns. Reynolds began the 2015 season in fine form, however back-to-back injuries derailed his momentum around the Origin period. His averages of 66.21 in 2014 and 62.39 in 2014 are a greater indication of his potential than his return of 54.71 points per game last season. The Rabbitohs’ possible regression this season will make an increase on his historical average difficult, however an increase of 8 points from his 2015 production is still a handsome return on your investment.

Trent Hodkinson meanwhile is a strong ‘avoid’. On top of his probably State of Origin responsiblities, Hodkinson has moved to a club where his playmaking duties will likely be diluted. Jarrod Mullen is not only an established figure at the Knights, but Nathan Brown has indicated that Hodkinson’s leadership, kicking game and discipline will be used as a foil to Mullen’s strong running and passing games. As a result, Mullen is more likely to be the player who experiences somewhat of a renaissance this season. In 2015, the Knights scored just 458 points, some 64 points fewer than the Bulldogs, meaning there is a good chance we see his average of 2.5 successful conversions per game regress slightly. Hodkinson scored just 1 try and had 12 try-assists last season. Whilst there appears to be room for improvement on those numbers, Mullen’s presence, combined with the fact he had 4 tries and just 9 try-assists in 2014 undermines our optimism. Mullen is the better buy of the duo, however with kicking metres not a relevant measure of a player’s worth, even he is unlikely to provide too much value.

Ben Hunt (BRI – $404,400) and Cooper Cronk (MEL – $309,200)

Hunt and Cooper are dominant halves, however 2016 looms as a year in which their workload will be fractionally reduced. Cronk will have Queensland duty hindering his availability through the Origin period, however it is the rise of Blake Green that we’re most concerned with. Last season, Green’s 10 try-assists were only fractionally inferior to Cronk’s 13, whilst his running game saw him cross the try-line 8 times. Over the pre-season, we’ve been given a glimpse into his already respected kicking game, and the early indication at the Nines suggest that it is something he’s worked on over the summer. With Billy Slater returning to action this season, Cronk gets a key piece of his attacking arsenal back, however Slater isn’t a passive ball-player either. Add Cameron Smith to that equation and Cronk is no longer the obvious centre of attention in Melbourne.

Ben Hunt meanwhile is partnered with one of the more exciting young talents in the NRL. Anthony Milford got off to a slow start in Brisbane, however upon finding his feet became the 5/8 many expected. Hunt’s 2014 breakout campaign produced what many felt would be unsustainable expectations on the young halfback. His 13 tries and 19 try-assists seemed particularly inflated, however a 2015 campaign which saw him score 10 tries and post 14 try-assists showed that whilst 2014 was special, he’d remain an elite fantasy option. Until Corey Parker retires, Hunt won’t be the principal goal-kicker at the club, and with Milford now established in Wayne Bennett’s system, we’re expecting a shift towards parity in responsibility between the two Bronco halves. As a result, Hunt looks a tad over-priced, whilst we’ll touch on Milford in more detail in our 5/8 article.

Kieran Foran (PAR – $312,200)

Kieran Foran is an interesting prospect this season. Whilst he doesn’t kick goals, a fairly big issue, his move from Manly should open up opportunities for greater responsibility in 2016. Probable halves partner Corey Norman is talented, however isn’t naturally a dominant playmaker. Cherry-Evans accounted for so much of Manly’s activity (18 try-assists in 2015, 13 try-assists in 2014), that assuming Norman doesn’t directly replace him, Foran should see an increase in numbers cross the board. Parramatta loom as an attacking juggernaut this season, and Foran is set to be a major beneficiary. Still, he’s at the lower end of our ‘consider’ category, with a combination of Jackson Hastings and an out-and-out superstar a more advisable combination.

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

Don’t forget to LIKE us on Facebook or follow us on twitter @BlindsideSport for a reminder as to when our Predictions are published each week! Roman Barbera can also be found on twitter @rombarbera.

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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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