SIX IN SIX – HOOKER

The Six In Six series is back following its debut last year.

Over the next six days, we will bring you previews for all seven positions (halves will be combined).

Our analysis will be broken down into the following three categories, based on price:

The Premiums > $500k

The Mid-pricers > $300k – 500k

The Cheapies > $160k – $300k

Some of the guys we list won’t be the most obvious selections, but in all likelihood the guys that we don’t preview will have been done to death in other articles on this site and elsewhere.

First up, let’s take a look at the Hooker position.

The Premiums

Damien Cook

$726,000, HOK, 2018 Games: 22, 2018 PPG: 77, 2018 MPG: 77, 2018 PPM: 0.98

At just a tad over 7.5% of your total available salary cap, Damien Cook is certainly going to be hard to fit into your Round 1 SuperCoach side, but in my humble opinion it’s a cost that we just need to commit to.

2018 was more than a meteoric rise for the South Sydney hooker with Cook’s average increasing from 43 PPG in 2017 to a competition high of 78 PPG in 2018. With a historic PPM rate hovering around the 1 mark, it was seemingly all just a matter of minutes for him. Thankfully, this hypothesis turned true with his minutes increasing to 79 MPG in 2018.

Here are a few of his highlights from last year:

  • His base output of 51 BPPG saw him as the clear-cut leader in base production at HOK with the next best being Jazz Tevaga (48) and Cameron McInnes (46).
  • He scored under 60 PPG in just 27% of all games played.
  • He played in all, but two games (Rounds 13 and 14). Round 13 was missed due to Origin duties and he was rested for Round 14.
  • He scored just four tries.
  • His price rose by $230k.

Under Anthony Siebold, Cook would clearly be the sole hooker in 2019. However, Seibold has shifted to the Broncos and in comes Wayne Bennett. So, do we have any concern regarding Cook’s time on ground and subsequent output following the coaching switch?

In a recent article by Robert Sutherland from the Daily Telegraph, which you can view here he largely debunked the Bennett SuperCoach killer myth (subject to a few noted flaws that are inevitable in such a simplistic analysis). The Broncos finished sixth, third and eighth in the last three years for total SuperCoach points scored.

But, how about the hookers that he’s coached?

With a focus on the Brisbane Broncos from 2015 to 2018, below are Andrew McCullough’s SuperCoach stats.

2015 – 24 games, 59 PPG, 70 MPG

2016 – 19 games, 48 PPG, 67 MPG

2017 – 18 games, 61 PPG, 79 MPG

2018 – 21 games, 53 PPG, 73 MPG

That’s an average of 72 MPG for McCullough. If Cook is to see similar minutes in 2019 then he will still likely average over 70 PPG given his historical base production.

So, let’s cut the nonsense about Bennett being a “SuperCoach killer” and have some confidence in Cook’s ability to produce back-to-back 70+ average seasons.

There will be likely be no utility on the bench for the Rabbitohs this year with the interchange expected to feature one of the Burgess twins (George Burgess is suspended for the first three weeks), Ethan Lowe, Tevita Tatola, Tom Amone, Rhys Kennedy and/or Liam Knight). Concerningly, Matt McIlwrick was named in the #14 jersey for the Charity Shield, but let’s see if he’s there come TLT.

If Cook is the sole hooking option for Souths in Round 1 then he’s worth the big bucks and it’s not to be undersold the importance of a consistent captain option that he will be each week.

Lock him in.

Cameron Smith

$594,400, HOK, 2018 Games: 23, 2018 PPG: 64, 2018 MPG: 77, 2018 PPM: 0.83

Cameron Smith lost his place as the games #1 hooker in 2018 with Cook finishing with a 14 PPG higher season average.

Smith’s decline was inevitable at some stage, but perhaps not as rapidly as we saw last year with his average dropping by over 10 PPG year-on-year.

A contributing factor to this was the reduction in his Try Assists, which negatively impacted his average by 6.2 PPG. This correlated to the performance of the Melbourne Storm attack, which produced 30 fewer tries year-on-year. His Last Touch statistic increased by 0.9 PPG.

There’s no doubt that the transfer of Cooper Cronk hindered the Storm’s attack and it also may have had a negative impact on Smith’s SuperCoach output.

Whilst Cronk won’t be returning any time soon, there is potential upside in Smith’s SuperCoach output that may not be present for Josh Hodgson given that Smith’s base production remained consistent year-on-year at 38 vs. 39 BPPG.

The emergence of Brandon Smith may see Smith spending time in the halves (or as a ball-playing lock) should the youngster be provided with minutes at hooker. This would no doubt hinder Smith’s base output but it could provide us with some nice attacking points whilst Smith is in that position on the field.

What is concerning to me is the way Smith finished the 2018 season. In the final ten matches of the year he scored over he scored over 60 on just four occasions (this does include Round 23 where Smith played just 34 minutes).

In positive news, the new Try Contribution statistic should have a tick for Smith’s output with a net increase of 12 points added to his 2018 tally should that rule been in place last year. Smith will also continue to be the Storm’s goal-kicker.

This is the cheapest price Cameron Smith has been to start a season in many years, but at the age of 35 and turning 36 this year, 2019 may see a continued decline in his SuperCoach output. However, there is clear upside here if he can maintain his base and regain the attacking statistics that fell by the wayside last year.

Josh Hodgson

$592,100, HOK, 2018 Games: 11, 2018 PPG: 63, 2018 MPG: 77, 2018 PPM: 0.82

Hodgson had a delayed start to the 2018 season due to injury, seeing him only available for selection from Round 15. In his return game he played just 45 minutes off the bench, but then went on to play 80 MPG in the remaining ten matches of the season.

Hodgson has a much lower floor than Cook given his BPPG output since joining the NRL is an average of 36.75.

2018 – 38

2017 – 38

2016 – 37

2015 – 34

However, he is instrumental to the Raiders attack with 23 PPG coming from creating statistics. This is what separates his game to Cook, who averages just 11 creating points per game. There’s an argument therefore to suggest that Hodgson may have the higher ceiling out of the two.

The addition of the try contribution rule in 2019 would seemingly be a certain positive for Hodgson. However, if these rule settings were in place in 2018, Hodgson’s total points scored would have actually decreased by four in 11 games. It’s not much, I know, but it’s still a negative.

Hodgson for me is priced fairly to start the season and despite the relatively low base when compared to Cook, an average ranging from 60-65 PPG is not an unreasonable expectation and obviously not the worst outcome for your HOK#2.

He is also available for the first bye round, which is a big tick.

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

Robbie Farah ($581,100, HOK, 2018 Games: 11, 2018 PPG: 62, 2018 MPG: 72, 2018 PPM: 0.87) is past it right? Well, maybe not given that following his transfer back to the Tigers from Round 16 last year, Farah averaged 60 PPG. There’s still question marks as to who will partner Luke Brooks in the halves, and there’s a real possibility that the loser out of Benji Marshall or Josh Reynolds will come off the bench as a utility. So, Farah’s relevance clearly relies on there being no such outcome. If Madge opts to go with Farah as the sole hooker then it would be wise to consider him as your HOK#2.

Andrew McCullough ($505,300, HOK, 2018 Games: 21, 2018 PPG: 54, MPG: 73, 2018: PPM: 0.74) would have been covered in the next section should he be cheaper by $5,301, so it would be rude of me not to mention him here. Following a career-best season in 2017, McCullough saw a decline in his PPG by 7 in 2018, which is largely a result of him receiving fewer minutes (6 MPG reduction year-on-year). If you ignore the three games where he played less than 60 minutes (Rounds 1, 7 and 24) his season average was 58 PPG. There’s unlikely to be a utility on the bench for the Broncos this season, so barring injury McCullough should go close to playing 80 MPG and Seilbold did prefer Cook as the 80-minute hooker last year.

The Mid-pricers

Jake Friend

$481,500, HOK, 2018 Games: 24, 2018 PPG: 51, 2018 MPG: 68, 2018 PPM: 0.75

It was a relatively disappointing SuperCoach year for Jake Friend in 2018. On the field, it was effectively perfect, given that he was a premiership winning hooker.

His average took a tumble from 59 PPG in 2017 to just 51 PPG in 2018. In fact, this was his lowest average in the last five years and approximately 10 PPG reduction on what he has consistently been producing.

The first 12 rounds were a killer for Friend. He averaged just 43 PPG over this period in 64 MPG. From there on his minutes spiked to 73 MPG and his SuperCoach output followed, averaging 60 PPG over the final matches.

Taking a look at the likely Roosters bench, I am not sure that there’s an obvious candidate to take minutes off Friend. Isaac Liu, Lindsay Collin and Zane Tetevano will likely rotate through the middle, while Mitch Aubusson will play in the back-row.

Could Friend join Smith and Hodgson in the 60 PPG average club this season?


Josh Reynolds

$309,900, 2018 Games: 5, 2018 PPG: 41, 2018 MPG: 52, 2018: PPM: 0.8

Reynolds had a largely forgettable first season at the Wests Tigers playing just five games and is now in a battle with Benji Marshal to join Luke Brooks in the halves for 2019.

For me, it’s quite simple here. Should Reynolds win the race then he becomes a candidate for your #2 HOK spot. He’s been generously provided with a discount of close to $100k on his 2018 average due to playing limited games last year.

If he’s starting in the halves then I can’t see him averaging any less than at least 40 PPG given that’s effectively what he’s produced as half over the past five years. 2018 produced his worst average of 41 PPG, and that included just two games where started in the halves for scores of 20 and 73.

He might not be the sexiest pick, but if he’s starting in the halves for the Tigers then he must be considered.

It’s probably best to avoid…….

Victor Radley ($400,700. HOK/2RF, 2018 Games: 22, 2018 PPG: 43, 2018 MPG: 44, 2018 PPM: 0.97) has been one of the hype players this pre-season. There’s an expectation that he is set to see his minutes increase from 44 MPG in 2018 with the loss of Ryan Matterson. However, are people forgetting about Isaac Liu? He started at lock in 16 matches last year and will no doubt rotate through the middle once again this year. As such, whilst there might be some incremental improvement in Radley’s minutes this year, I can’t see it being enough to make him a genuine mid-price option for your Round 1 side.

Reed Mahoney ($374,300, HOK, 2018 Games: 9, 2018 PPG: 40, 2018 MPG: 57, 2018 PPM: 0.7) has only recently become a serious mid-price option due to the leave of absence for personal reasons of Kaysa Pritchard. This sees Mahoney as the Eels only genuine hooking option. However, it’s more than likely that Eels will name Will Smith as the bench utility, which would limit Mahoney’s increase in minutes from last year. Smith played just two games from Rounds 14 to 25, which coincided with Mahoney’s emergence onto the first-grade scene. Regardless of the inclusion of Smith in the 17, Mahoney’s ability to produce as a mid-price cow is questionable. In the five games last year where he played in excess of 60 minutes, he averaged just 47 PPG. There are probably better ways for you to use your cash this year.

The Cheapies

Kurt Mann

$258,900, HOK/CTW, 2018 Games: 24, 2018 PPG: 28, 2018 MPG: 41, 2018 PPM: 0.68

Mann has made the switch from the Dragons to the Knights over the off-season. A battle with Danny Levi for the starting hooking role has been ongoing all summer and it seems that for now that Levi has won.

Mann’s versatility will see him used by Nathan Brown all over the park. As an example, in last weekend’s trial he lined up on the wing as a replacement for Shaun Kenny-Dowall. This versatility is also not ideal for SuperCoach as it’s unlikely that we will see consistent output throughout the year.

With a bench utility role the most likely outcome, what can we expect from Mann?

In the 17 games last year at the Dragons where he came off the bench he averaged just 19 PPG.

For me, he is not relevant unless Levi were, unfortunately, to get injured.

Nathaniel Roache

$246,000, 2018 Games: nil

For anyone that watched the Warriors trial game on the weekend, you will agree with me when I say that Roache was too impressive not to feature for the Warriors this season. He certainly passed the all important “eye test”.

Issac Luke will be the starting hooker (he’s just agreed to an upgraded contract), but Roache will get minutes, it’s just a matter of how many.

He is priced at an average of approximately 25 PPG, which is a discount of almost $130k on his 2017 average of 38 PPG. With a lumbar disc injury ending his 2018 season before it even started, Roache played nine games in 2017 at an average of 34 MPG, which included seven off the bench.

Assuming that he comes off the bench again in 2019 he will be a slow burning cow, but he has the ability to increase in price by at least $100k if he was to average close to his 2017 output.

WeninRome

Wenin is one of the founding fathers of the NRLSCTalk website who's Tuesday Teams Analysis has been a feature post on the site for close to a decade. He also loves a good steak bet!

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    API flies under the radar again. Haven’t seen him mentioned anywhere.
    He scored more than Cook for the 1st 4 rounds last year & until Rd 7 (25 to Cook’s 102) he was keeping evens. Though Cook was cheaper than API last year, API is 200k cheaper than Cook this year & I’m taking the gamble on API again.
    Eagles have what seems to be an ok run & their bye is Rd16.
    #gottapickssomepods