Fantasy King: Old and In The Way

Filed in Uncategorized by on March 28, 2013

By Mick 'The King' Adams

“So we all get old, we cannae hack it anymore, and that’s it?”

-Mark Renton, Trainspotting

“Over the Hill” is one of those well-trod, overused expressions that is well-trod and overused for a reason. Succinct and evocative, the phrase is perhaps nowhere more symbolically apt than in the world of professional sports. Sporting lore is littered with the broken down, heartworn carcasses of careers that went one round too many, one season too long, one Pineapple-Cruiser-on-a-rooftop too often. The hill metaphor is as simple as it is effective: players start at the bottom, tirelessly push up the hill and rise through the ranks, reach a peak that is frustratingly low for most and infuriatingly brief for all, before rapidly careening down the other side towards regression, rejection and retirement.

Given that at its heart, fantasy football is an attempt to quantify a players’ output and effectiveness, there is perhaps no better representation of this inevitable decline. One only needs to go back as far as 2012 and look at Nathan Hindmarsh’s fantasy inconsistency as he proudly marched towards the wooden spoon in his final year of football, a dubious reward for a player who had more heart than a thousand Jarryd Haynes. Before having his minutes and work rate cut drastically at times in 2012,Hindmarsh was long a member of the Parker and Gallen-led holy trinity. In his last two seasons however he was elbowed out of the way by the younger, hungrier Shaun Fensom. The reign of that new triumvirate looks to be more Lady Jane Grey than Queen Victoria though, with fantasy rule changes, age and injuries combining to dramatically curtail their influence.

North of the border, Petero Civoniceva suffered a similar fate. Although his playing peak occurred several seasons before the fantasy concept became widely embraced by League lovers, even from the lowly heights of his middling fantasy status of 2010 Petero’s fantasy worth tumbled dramatically last season. Averaging just 35 minutes, 17 tackles and 10 hit ups a game, there is no better illustration of a player gently riding off into the sunset. Of course, nobody seriously viewed the one year deal that allowed him to retire a Bronco as anything other than an extended, well deserved victory lap for the admirable front rower. His selection for Queensland based on these stats says something else entirely though, pointing as much to Queensland’s lack of fear after six straight series wins as it did to their respect for Civoniceva’s standing in the team. If the results of those (now seven) series’ were reversed, it is a safe assumption that Petero would have been jettisoned some time ago and it would have been Hindmarsh extending his Origin career by two or three seasons.

And what of the current vintage? Further extending the hill analogy, consider the career span of a player as a long, westward drive from Sydney. It’s simple enough to pick out the players approaching Penrith – ambitious, cocky young colts ready to begin the climb. It’s easier still to identify those select few at the top of the pile, prowling around breathing in the rarefied air of Mounts Victoria and Werong. Then there are those on the other side. Lithgow Maccas isn’t far out of the rear view and the hash browns are still warm in the cup holder, but those high points just aren’t what they once were. From here, most take the Mudgee route. Pleasant enough, it is nonetheless a fairly flat, boring stretch. The true greats head though Bathurst, where the inexorable decline is interrupted by occasional highs. They tear through Mount Panorama and up to the hills of Orange, bringing new excitement and reminders of those dizzying heights they had revelled in not so long ago. For all though, the end point is the same: the lonely western plains, then the barren desert.

Matt Cooper is probably closer to Perth than Lithgow at this point. If Ben Hornby played a year too long in running out again last season, Cooper’s in an even worse position now. Given his putrid form and long struggle with injuries over the last few years, bowing out with Hornby and Dean Young would have given him a graceful exit he is now sure to be denied. He is by no means the only Dragon to have his fantasy stock plummet since 2010, but where someone like Jamie Soward was always a rubbish fantasy option, Cooper was a genuine backline star, always dependable for a 50+ average. After three rounds in 2013 his average is half of that, and seemingly the only way is down for the once prolific centre.

Travelling in the same car is Broncos five-eighth Scott Prince. It seems almost inconceivable now that he began 2011 with a higher fantasy value than Thurston. How far he has fallen. Of course, 2011 was a shocker for both Prince and the Titans, but he finished last year in better shape. It was for this reason that I selected him in our Making The Nut draft league. With all my preferred halves long gone, I was faced with the unenviable choice between the once great Prince, the never good (as a fantasy option) Soward, and a few other undesirables. I perhaps foolishly thought the Broncos could get one more good year out of the veteran. Three games in however, it’s hard to decide who’s in a worse position- the Broncos or PriddleUpTheMiddle, my seventh (of 12) ranked fantasy squad. Either way, it is hard at this point to envision either team playing meaningful football at the back end of the season with Prince in the lineup.

By no means as far gone as those last two, but nonetheless drawing ever closer to that setting western sun, is Luke Bailey. 2012 saw him drop from regularly averaging over 60 to just managing to break 50. His game time dropped to an average of 45 minutes per game, a trend which has continued over the first three rounds. He bounced back against Manly with a respectable 58 after a couple of low scores to start the year, but is averaging under 50 and it’s hard to imagine that improving too drastically. A worrying reality for Bailey owners, who are paying the price for putting too much stock in past performance.

A different case is Bailey’s Titans teammate Ashley Harrison. Of course, his low score on the weekend comes with the not unreasonable reality that it’s hard to score fantasy points when you spend the majority of the game knocked unconscious, but Harrison’s fantasy decline has definitely been evident. Not far off turning 32, Harrison has missed a lot of football through injury in the past few seasons and his best days are surely behind him. Once a fantasy stud, he still managed a respectable average of 62, but only broke 80 on three occasions. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to expect anything different, but that has become a pretty big if in recent years.

The David Stagg situation continues to vex me. At a new club ostensibly more appreciative of his talents, I thought an increase in game time could lead to some pretty sweet fantasy hauls. Of course, the game time hasn’t really arrived and neither have the fantasy hauls. He played 80 minutes on the weekend, but was forced out to the centres in the wake of Justin Hodges absence, a move which helped precisely nobody. At 30, it looks like the ride is over for fantasy owners looking at Stagg.

Was going to talk about Isaac Luke, but I honestly have no idea what is going on there. He’s never been a player for me though, so I think I’ll keep that streak going and ignore him. Peace.   


Comments are closed.