NRL Supercoach 2016: Hookers Analysis

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The hooking position is generally a rewarding yet frustrating one. As one of the higher scoring positions in NRL Supercoach, that you can only select two players means that determining which players you should pursue is often difficult. This season, there are only a few cheaper options available, with playing Jayden Nikorima out of position currently where we’re leaning if you’re keen on a rookie-priced option. Manaia Cherrington and Matt Parcell also loom as options, but Cherrington’s value will expire when Farah returns from injury and Parcell is set to receive fewer minutes than first anticipated. Dan Levi at the Knights is another player we’ll preview once team lists have been announced for Round 1 (assuming he is named to start).

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: Hookers Analysis

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James Segeyaro (PEN – $402,600) and Jake Granville (NQC – $342,800)

Two attack-first hookers with the potential for growth in 2016, only one of this duo is worth investing in this season. Segeyaro averaged just shy of 70 minutes per game last season, however unless Will Smith is named on the bench for the Panthers, he’s set to resume 80 minute duties in 2016. Having scored 0.91 points per minute last season, expect an average above 70, with 73 the magic figure should he average 80 minutes per game. Segeyaro could see a slight decline in try-scoring numbers, however that possible detriment is off-set by the fact that his minutes are almost guaranteed to increase.

Jake Granville meanwhile has spoken over the summer about his desire to become an 80-minute player, however after the Cowboys won a Premiership with a hooking rotation, and took that same strategy into the World Club Challenge, don’t expect any changes this season. Granville enjoyed a strong 2015, however without more opportunity it is difficult to see him improving, let alone to such a degree that it would be worth using one of your vacant hooking spots on him. Having averaged 54.21 over the full 24 games of the year, his durability will also be put to the test in order for Granville to be available for every game of this coming season.

Cameron Smith (MEL – $433,500)

There is little to suggest that Cameron Smith won’t be a reliable and consistent NRL Supercoach player again this season. Averaging 68.57 points per game last season, Smith doesn’t miss games (aside form the 1 game he’ll miss through Origin obligations) and invariably plays the full 80 minutes. Over the past two seasons, Smith has played 45 club games, and has played fewer than 80 minutes on just 5 occasions. He has played fewer than 70 minutes just once (65 minuted in Round 26, 2014).

The issue with Smith is that he’s unlikely to improve his production, a hindrance at an issue which boasts several players set to grow this season. Smith’s goal-kicking regressed slightly last season as a result of Melbourne’s attack regressing, however with Slater returning, Curtis Scott looming and Blake Green another year into his contract, expect a bounce-back this season. A safe captaincy option week in and week out, Smith has to be considered at the very least.

Damien Cook (SOU – $321,200) and Issac Luke (NZW – $370,500)

Cook closed out 2015 as potentially one of the more exciting NRL Supercoach prospects of the future. His three tries and 240 minutes of action across his three starts were impressive, but were they tenable? Whilst that rate of production will invariably tail off, Cook looked just as dangerous in the Charity Shield. Whilst he has the potential to over-play his hand and isn’t the strongest dummy-half in the league, his game converts to Supercoach production better than virtually any other player in the competition. At Cook’s current price, he’d have to average just over 50 to breakeven. The primary issue facing him this season is the presence of Issac Luke’s more obvious successor Cameron McInnes. McInnes can also be used as a back-rower, and has been comprehensively outplayed by Cook in pre-season, so expect 55-60 minutes out of Cook per game. The one issue here is that even at his 2015 rate of 1.06 points per minute (a mark we feel he’ll fail to live up to with a greater sample size), he’s looking at only a slight increase on his current price. If guaranteed 60 minutes, Cook’s best case scenario is an average of 63 points per game. Should his production dip to a James Segeyaro rate of 0.91 points per minute, he’s eyeing off an average of 54.5 for this coming season. This situation will have to be monitored considering Cook’s value is largely contingent on his minutes. More will be known following Round 1 rotations and interchanges, but for now Cook is a low-ish risk, medium reward prospect.

Issac Luke’s move to the Warriors looms as a good one for his career, however will it be good for his fantasy value? Probably not. The Warriors forward pack lacks the momentum of Souths’ at its prime, and with Luke predominantly a running dummy-half (led the NRL in dummy-half runs and metres gained from dummy-half in 2014) that is a crucial component of his success. In 2014, Luke had just one try and one try-assist. In 2015, that increased to 3 tries and 5 try-assists, both numbers which should increase again with a traditionally emotional player now playing back home. Revised ruck regulations should allow Luke to flourish further, whilst his base statistics production has remained consistent over the past two seasons. Luke’s primary barrier to success this season will be the potential for Thomas Leuluai to be named on the bench. Luke may move from averaging 72 minutes in 2014 and 74 minutes in 2015 to something in the realm of 65 minutes. Leuluai’s presence alone is enough for us to not want to take a risk on Luke. If the lone hooker however, we can see Luke increasing his production fractionally this season.

Michael Lichaa (CBY – $331,800) and Josh Hodgson (CAN – $340,700)

Michael Lichaa ranks in our ‘Top 3’ at the position this season in terms of the value he presents. Having nailed the defensive side of the game last season (907 tackles at a success rate of 97%), Lichaa has been open about trying to increase his attacking work-rate this season. Lichaa scored 3 tries, had 2 try-assists, broke just 19 tackles and ran for just 45.67 metres per game (almost the same mark he set in 2014 despite only playing cameos from the bench). Expect all to increase this season, whilst his attacking kicking game should also lift in prominence given the absence of Trent Hodkinson. There is nothing but up-side in Lichaa this campaign.

Josh Hodgson is slightly less of a ‘guaranteed thing’, but his scope for improvement is far greater than even Lichaa’s. In 2015, Hodgson started the season in an almost perfect time-share at hooker (averaged 56.44 minutes per game over his first 18 appearances for the season). Over the final six weeks of the season, he made his first 80-minute appearance, and gave a further three 80-minute showings after that. From Round 21 onwards, Hodgson averaged 71.83 minutes per game, and didn’t lose any of his spark out of dummy-half. Even if Kurt Baptiste is named, don’t expect him to play every game, with Ricky Stuart set to ride the hot hand if Hodgson is producing. Either way, expect more than 60 minutes per game this season and as a result, an average of close to 60 points per game from a player who dominates in attack on a team which looks set to attack this season.

Andrew McCullough (BRI – $373,900) and Nathan Peats (PAR – $367,400)

Andrew McCullough is a workhorse, however there seems to be little room for improvement this coming season. In 2016, the Broncos are competition favourites however, and having fallen at the final hurdle last season, don’t be surprised if Wayne Bennett looks to make some minor adjustments to his side throughout the year. One of them should be blooding Kodi Nikorima a little further. Nikorima was exceptional against Wigan in the World Club Challenge, and could arguably improve on the 19.73 minutes of action he was afforded when injuries in the halves didn’t force him into playing uncharacteristically long stints on the field. McCullough’s work rate leaves him as a prime candidate to be given early marks in big victories. He averaged 70 minutes in games where Nikorima played and was interchanged in 16 of his 24 games. When Nikorima wasn’t in the 17, McCullough played 74.86 minutes and was interchanged just three times. He should produce again but don’t be surprised if McCullough sees a marginal fall in productivity this season, as his role as a defensive workhorse with limited attacking responsibilities leave him at a significant disadvantage if his minutes are at all adversely impacted.

Nathan Peats is an interesting option, not least because of his dual-position eligibility and favourable bye schedule. Peats in many ways is like McCullough, however his minutes are unlikely to be adversely impacted even if someone like Isaac De Gois is named on the bench. Peats averaged 75.42 minutes last season, even playing through a broken neck in one game. Moving into the back row when De Gois came on, Peats is an 80-minute player whose lone concern should be whether the Eels’ recruitment of Beau Scott will mean his shifts in the back row will be replaced by stints on the bench. Peats averaged 48 tackles per game last season, however doesn’t boast the attacking game of many in a similar price bracket. Consequently, he’s a safe option with perfect bye coverage, but lacks the ceiling of the cheaper Lichaa and Hodgson.

Mitch Rein (SGI – $348,900)

Mitch Rein’s potential has always been evident, however under Mary McGregor he’s unlikely to be afforded the opportunities necessary for him to experience a break-out campaign. Rein averaged just 57.9 minutes per game last season, and played the full 80 on just three occasions. His 6 tries last campaign are unlikely to be improved upon, however it is the presence and form of former Warrior Siliva Havili that should have prospective owners concerned. Havili was by far the better of the duo in the Charity Shield, and whilst Rein should remain the starter to begin the season, don’t be surprised to see Rein’s minutes fall in the 50-55 minute bracket with regularity.

Robbie Farah (WST – $363,800) and Nathan Friend (GCT – $266,400)

The Tigers’ hooking situation in 2016 looms as being a messy one. Matt Ballin’s signature meant that he, Robbie Farah and Manaia Cherrington were set to fight for the 80 available minutes in the club’s number 9 jersey, however with Ballin (Round 5) and Farah (Round 3-4) both injured to start the season, all are comfortable ‘avoid’ candidates. Cherrington was a passenger in 2015 even when he was only called upon for impact off the bench. In all, his 297 minutes of action saw him make 164 tackles, 225 metres, score 1 try and lay on two try-assists. Whilst an enticing cash cow, Jayden Nikroima’s job security and scoring ceiling loom as being higher.

Nathan Friend looms as being the most under-owned and under-valued potential cash cow in fantasy this season. Having played the full 80 minutes in the final four rounds of 2015, Friend clearly still has the tank to be a reliable and consistent performer. His price however is based on his average of 50.83 minutes per game, something which he is set to improve on in 2016 with utility Daniel Mortimer as his designated back-up. Even if Mortimer is named for Round 1, it won’t necessarily mean that Friend won’t play the 80 minutes, such is Mortimer’s versatility and the Titans’ lack of depth in the forwards. Expect a 10-15% increase in Friends’ 2015 average at the least, however he shouldn’t be regarded as a genuine potential keeper as he lacks the attacking game to have the ceiling of Lichaa, Hodgson. Still, he’s our preferred candidate in the $190,000 – $320,000 price range. Another low-risk, medium-reward option.

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.

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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