SIX IN SIX – HALVES

 “Footy is a game of two halves”

Credit: any random NRL player walking off the field at halftime, 2019.

Ahhhhh, rugby league. A game filled with tradition, history, sex tapes and clichés. But there are some adages that can stand the test of time. The importance of your halfback and five eighth cannot be understated, and it remains extremely relevant even in the modern game. Why else would NRL clubs feel like it’s worth spending in excess of $850,000 a season on the likes of Corey Norman, or Mitch Moses, or even Anthony Milford? I mean, talk about overrated players, amirite?!

Much like rugby league though, getting the two halfback and two five eighth positions right in SuperCoach is critical to the success of your overall and/or head-to-head seasons, as we can often see some players explode in a short period of time (Gareth Widdop), make a bucketload and be worth an incredible amount of money (Gareth Widdop), only to fade into relative SuperCoach irrelevance afterwards due to a lack of consistency (Gareth Widdop).

The halves positions are one of the best opportunities to pick a strong POD to try get the jump on the other thousands of SuperCoaches, given the limited number of slots and the particular monetary restrictions of each season. For 2019, it certainly seems like we need to take advantage of all the cheapies in the halfback and five eighth position, given their apparent job security and likely unavailability of enough quality cheapies in other positions.

I will cover some of the lesser-spoken about options below, as well as some of the potentially controversial and polarising options, as some of the premiums have been done to death in other articles already (e.g. Cleary and Morgan).

Sorry Wilfred, couldn’t resist….

The Premiums

KALYN PONGA

$614,300, FLB/5/8, 2018 Games: 20, 2018 PPG: 65.7, 2018 MPG: 76.5, 2018 PPM: 0.86

Ponga, Ponga, Ponga… I’m almost sick to death of hearing that name, with how often it’s mentioned. And that’s just in the WhatsApp group chat I’m in with Semisonic. Throw in the likes of Mark Gasnier’s massive man-crush on Kalyn (a bit creepy, but I’m not judging) as well as the intermittent sobbing from Justin’s general direction as he looks at a picture of Jordan Kahu, and then remembers The One That Got Away… and that’s before you even think of the number of detractors crucifying Kalyn’s performances in the trial matches.

Justin thinking about what could have been….

It’s the name on everyone’s lips this preseason but for good cause, as his transition from the most promising fullback prospect in the NRL that had ARRIVED to potentially being the second worst fullback-come-five-eighth this season (sorry Jack) has massive SuperCoach ramifications. I mean, Ponga averaged a monster 70.3 PPG at fullback last season, taking out his injury-affected score of 5. That average nudges to 73.3 PPG when he kicked goals as well. Compare that to his mediocre average of 42 PPG at five eighth, from the whopping sample size of ONE GAME – you have to be made to pick him, right? Going from a position where he could have plenty of space to run, bust tackles, break ankles and chime in on both sides of the field in attack, to one where he is primarily kept on one side, has less space to run, will be targeted in defence and tired out by having to make plenty of tackles and also get used to a position that is not his natural position…

Well, not really. There’s plenty of potential negatives, of course. But Ponga is a rugby league freak. His game drips SuperCoach points, and the combination he has with Lachlan Fitzgibbon (#Pongibbon – credit: carlosthedwarf, 2018) is the real deal. Throw in the fulltime goalkicking role – which only contributed 7 PPG for him last year (27 goals from 39 attempts) and I think he’s a valid consideration for your five eighth position given the other options in that position.

Ponga’s looked poor during the trials, as he continues to adjust, but somehow, he has managed to drop scores of around 45-60 SuperCoach points – even when he only played 45-50 minutes in that particular trial or with a team where they only trained together for a week. He technically has licence to roam and I am 100% expecting him to be able to improve across the year.

The main concern I have for not starting him is his ownership. 34.5% at latest count, and the Knights play four of their first five games at home where they usually perform better. If Ponga gets off to a flyer, you’re going to be behind a sizeable portion of the competition. To not go Ponga means you’re not only picking a POD player, but also playing the anti-POD card – a double whammy that could be season-ending (maybe not that bad) if your POD flops and Ponga fires.

DALY CHERRY-EVANS

$577,400, HFB, 2018 Games: 24, 2018 PPG: 61.7, 2018 MPG: 80.4, 2018 PPM: 0.77

DCE has always been an inconsistent halfback option given his lack of goalkicking in previous seasons, but he has always still finished with respectable season averages. His averages since 2013 to 2017 are 66, 59, 61, 54, 62 – all without goalkicking (for the most part, he kicked a whopping 9 from 16 attempts across those five season). Now, 2018 saw him still average 61.7 across the season, but he became the fulltime goalkicker for the majority of the season (although there were a few games where he shared the role with Hodkinson when he was on the field). In the 20 games he took a shot at goal, he averaged 64.7 PPG and kicked at a respectable, but not amazing, 78.31% for the season. I expect this to improve as he most likely would have had the full offseason to practice, given he is expected to continue kicking this year. DCE averaged 11.2 PPG in goalkicking points for the 20 games he kicked.

The other interesting point to note is DCE’s performances without Tom Trbojevic at fullback. He has played five games from the last three seasons and sits with an average of 71.4 PPG – with just 16 points coming from goalkicks. With TTurbo expected to miss the first two rounds, DCE has the potential to get off to a bit of a flyer and if Tommy misses any more games, then he gets to face the Warriors at New Zealand, the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium and potentially the Knights (in Newy) in Round 5.

DCE is also one of the harder-working halfbacks in defence, with his overall base + power stats sitting at just under 29 PPG. Add in his FDOs (as I often do with most dominant halfbacks who take charge of kicking) and he averages 31.9 PPG as a floor – add in a potential 10-12 PPG and that’s a floor that could be matched by only Cleary and potentially Jahrome Hughes (playing fullback), making him one of the safest halfback options.

If DCE kicks for the whole season, I can foresee him averaging above 70 PPG, and with the uncertainly surrounding Nathan Cleary and the Panthers, DCE has a legitimate claim to be the highest scoring halfback for 2019 – starting at just 7.0% ownership!

And the ‘Cherry-Evans’ on top – if he misses Origin selection, he plays Round 12.

CAMERON MUNSTER

$548,500, FLB/5/8, 2018 Games: 21, 2018 PPG: 58.6, 2018 MPG: 79.5, 2018 PPM: 0.74

Cameron Munster is an intriguing option given all the movement at the Storm in recent years. It appears that Munster is set to play five eighth only this season, with both Drinkwater (#RIPDrinky) and Hughes set to play fullback before Bellamy would even entertain shifting Munster to the back. We have limited data on Munster, with only 11 games at five eighth in 2017 (he averaged 64.0 PPG) and 20 games at five eighth in 2018 (he averaged 56.5 PPG). That gives him a career SuperCoach average of 59.2 PPG in 31 games playing five eighth.

However, one glaring factor to consider is Billy Slater’s retirement. Obviously, a big reason for Munster playing five eighth is having potentially the greatest fullback of all time at #1 – so we have a very limited sample size of data where we see Munster playing five eighth without Slater at the back. Three games in 2018, for scores of 69, 75 and 98 – an average of 80.7 PPG! This was against the Cowboys, Broncos and the Knights too, so not all pushovers as opponents (as an aside, Hughes played fullback in those three games and averaged 42.0 PPG). Munster scored a try, set up four others and broke the line three times – showing a significant increase in his playmaking involvement without Slater’s presence. Could this be a blueprint for the Storm in 2019? We certainly saw Munster looking comfortable at five eighth in the trial against the Cowboys, and he could be a real fast starter over the first half of the season with some favourable match-ups.

One of Munster’s best attributes from a SuperCoach perspective is his running game and tackle-busting ability. In his games at five eighth he has averaged 38.45 PPG in base and power alone. One of the positives is his increase in his runs at five eighth from 2017 to 2018, with him averaging 7.8 runs per game in 2017 for an average of 12.4 PPG in hit-ups alone, to averaging 8.9 runs per game in 2018 with an average of 13.45 PPG in hit-ups. His attacking stats increased as well, from scoring one try, setting up eight others, making five linebreaks and setting up 13 linebreaks in 2017, to scoring four tries, setting up 14 others, breaking the line just six times and setting up 15 others. The only stat that stands out is a lower tackle count in 2018, and a higher missed tackle count compared to 2017 (even after accounting for the differences in games played).

Owned by 12.9% (higher than I expected, to be honest), the stage is set for a marked improvement this year but the jury is still out over whether Munster can take the step up in responsibility to be the primary playmaker alongside Cam Smith for the Storm this year.

It would be rude of me not to mention…..

Gareth Widdop ($553,400, FLB/5/8, 2018 Games: 21, 2018 PPG: 59.1, 2018 MPG: 77.5, 2018 PPM: 0.76) is playing fullback this season, but maybe not all season? Who knows with Mary McGregor as the dumbest mid-game reshuffle involving a small fullback coming off the bench, a fullback moving to five eighth and a halfback moving to hooker could be on the cards for some part of every game this year. Widdop has experience dating back to SEVEN seasons ago playing five games at fullback for the Storm, where he averaged 51.4 PPG. He was a much less experienced player back then though, and not goalkicking either (contributed 14.86 PPG to his average last year). He has put in a few decent games for England at fullback more recently, and as a result he is a definite option if gambling on a 10.3% owned POD for Round 1.

Anthony Mil­f-

I’m kidding. No one wants to read my loving fanboy written-form soliloquy to Milford.

The Mid-pricers

ADAM REYNOLDS

$488,400, HFB, 2018 Games: 21, 2018 PPG: 52.2, 2018 MPG: 79.6 2018 PPM: 0.65

I jokingly referred to Adam Reynolds as “the Glass Man” in a recent article but to be honest, that’s unfair to him as he’s managed 21 games (out of a possible 24) in the past two seasons. Before that, sure, only 17 and 16 games, but Reynolds has been relatively health recently. That’s one of the biggest concerns about selecting him.

Otherwise, you’ve got a halfback that plays Round 12 (barring injury) who has averaged 62, 55, 58, 55 in the four seasons before Seibold turned the Bunnies into a sinister attacking machine. I wonder if Seibold is left-handed…

Anyway, with Bennett creating havoc wherever he goes, the mooted switch of Surgess to the right edge, GI to right centre and Gagai to the right wing gives ARey an international representative calibre right edge to play around with. He can go back to using his right edge backrower as a decoy but actually getting a result when GI and Gagai put on points to score… maybe resulting in the odd Try Contribution too.

I also expect his goalkicking to bounce back after his career worst kicking year in 2018. If he had kicked at 88% instead of 75% for example, he would have averaged an extra 4.6 PPG just like that.

MITCHELL PEARCE

$463,500, HFB, 2018 Games: 15, 2018 PPG: 49.5, 2018 MPG: 77.8, 2018: PPM: 0.63

Pearce gets a lot less attention since leaving the Roosters, and it has actually benefited his general gameplay. One of the Knights’ underrated performers last year by the general fanbase, Pearce was clearly influential as from his 14 games which he played the majority of the game, the Knights had a 7 win, 7 loss record. The other 10 games? Two wins, eight losses. Adjusting for his injury-affected 7 score, Pearce averaged 52.6 from 14 games, all in his first season with a new club. The 2019 squad also looks a lot better than the 2018 one, which bodes well for Pearce as well.

With historical averages of 57, 53, 66 and 62 (albeit at the Roosters), Pearce has shone a demonstrated ability to score well in excess of his 49.5 PPG average from last year. To go with Pearce over a Ponga would be one of those “double whammy” moves that I mentioned above… but a good one, as you could have a killer 60+ average POD (owned by just 6.5%) and you could get the jump on over a 1/3 of the competition if Ponga flops. High risk, high reward!

ASH TAYLOR

($419,000, HFB, 2018 Games: 23, 2018 PPG: 44.8, MPG: 79.1, 2018 PPM: 0.56)

ATay made an innocuous debut in first grade in 2015, breaking his hand in the first half of the game. He then went on to sign with the Titans (with the blessing of the Broncos) and had an impressive debut season, averaging 51.3 PPG in 21 games. He backed that up in 2017, averaging 53.1 PPG across 24 games, however he did kick goals ahead of Michael Gordon. As he isn’t the best kicker, this only increased his average by 4.58 PPG across the season! He lost the goalkicking to Gordon in 2018 and with some decreased attacking stats, his average crashed to 44.8 PPG. He’s still the back-up kicker to Gordon, and to his credit he has worked hard during the offseason to lose some of the fat he had been carrying in recent years. Also to his benefit is that he is likely to be playing beside Tyrone Roberts at five eighth, who he was beside in 2016 and arguably he played his best football beside Roberts.

At 2.6% ownership, he will be an absolute super-POD if he fires, making a chunk of coin along the way given his low starting price, and also gets the advantage of playing Round 12 against what should be an Origin-depleted Cowboys (as in, no Morgan, McGuire, Hess and potentially also no McLean, Gooper and maybe even Feldt). High risk, potentially high reward.

It’s probably best to avoid…….

AJ BRIMSON ($462,200. FLB/5/8, 2018 Games: 15, 2018 PPG: 49.4, 2018 MPG: 78.6, 2018 PPM: 0.63) was an intriguing prospect if he was going to be named at fullback for Round 1, after finishing the last four rounds playing fullback and averaging 60.3 PPG. However, he is still recovering from an offseason shoulder reconstruction and faces being eased back into first grade via the bench utility role, or potentially in the lower grades. If he comes back into the first grade side at five eighth, he may not be as appealing given his 45.5 PPG average in 11 games playing in the halves.

BRYCE CARTWRIGHT because like, his kids aren’t vaccinated. My kids are vaccinated, but it’s just not something I want to mess with. Measles, whooping cough, polio… nah, I’m staying away.

Also, NO, DON’T DO IT. Even if he’s named to start on the left edge, because Ryan James is coming back from an injury in the preseason.

The Cheapies

DYLAN BROWN

$168,100, HFB/5/8, 2018 Games: N/A, 2018 PPG: N/A, 2018 MPG: N/A, 2018 PPM: N/A

There was a bit of a battle initially, but Salmon’s opportunity came to a screeching halt, like when you accidentally run into a parked car. He wrote off his chances of claiming a spot in the halves, given he played there last year when injuries gave him a shot. He really flipped over into a spot at right centre, and is likely to be there come Round 2.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Brown has earned the #6 jersey and given his propensity to take the line on (which he showed again in the trials), a trait which is consistent with his stats in the ISP, I’m confident that he’ll have a decent base line in terms of tackles and runs, and should make easy money. 

ADAM KEIGHRAN

$168,100, HFB/5/8, 2018 Games: N/A, 2018 PPG: N/A, 2018 MPG: N/A, 2018 PPM: N/A

Personally I’m hoping for Keighran to nab the spot, as he is DPP. Chanel Harris-Tevita is HFB only. Keighran appears to be the better kicker too, and he is a no-brainer if named to start in the halves beside Blake Green. There is some doubt over his job security, especially if the Warriors are not competitive early on, but at the very least, he would be a fairly easy swap to CHT if he ends up replacing him. We need cheapies to be able to afford our guns, and Brown + Keighran is likely to be a combo that the majority of us will start (shades of Hastings + Taylor in 2016).

TE MAIRE MARTIN

$283,200, FLB/5/8, 2018 Games: 23, 2018 PPG: 30.3, 2018 MPG: 59.7, 2018 PPM: 0.52

A bit of a smokey cheapie option, but TMM spent eight games coming off the bench last season which drags down his MPG and also his PPG. His average was still only 39.2 PPG from 79.7 MPG, but that includes five games at fullback. A further adjustment puts him at 43.2 PPG in 10 games playing five eighth – a much more palatable number considering his starting price is based off an average of 30.3 PPG. Throw in his eight games in 2017 starting at five eighth beside Michael Morgan, where he also averaged 42.5 PPG, and it’s looking like a more dependable number. Keep in mind that was after a mid-season switch from the Panthers though, so all those numbers can look a lot better after a full preseason training beside Morgan in the halves.

This could be for the risk takers, like those crazy enough to want to pair Mitch Moses with Dylan Brown to occupy two of your four precious halfback and five eighth spots with Eels’ halves. Pure. Insanity.


That’s it from me team, I wish you all the very best of luck for this year.

If you weren’t already aware I have started producing a weekly podcast with last years overall champion, Guy Feeney (Bear).

For further details, you can catch us on Twitter via @NRLSC_Champions or you can download/stream the podcast directly here.

Catfish

Catfish (Wilfred Zee) won the competition outright in 2016 and now writes weekly pieces for the Daily Telegraph.

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    Rex Bannercurse
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    Keeper
    Rex Bannercurse

    Update on the Ash Taylor goal-kicking. It was very hard for Mick Gordon to be kicking goals in front of Taylor in 2017 as he was still at the Chooks.
    Cheers for the hard work Wilfred, got me reconsidering Cleary and Ponga and my FB…. and CTW…..

    Peeking Ducks
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    Peeking Ducks

    Is Morgan a must-have, despite his ‘difficult’ opening games?