The Fantasy King: Making the Leap

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on May 31, 2013

By Mick ‘ the King’ Adams

Andrew Fifita’s swift rise from Tigers discard to NSW Origin representative is a great story. His selection is well-deserved, one of the few positive signs for a team whose astoundingly dogged, as bizarre as it is misguided, faith in Mitchell Pearce seems certain to prolong the Maroon Dynasty by at least another year. Honestly, this whole pick-and-stick notion is an absolute embarrassment. Does anyone outside of NSW officialdom actually think that Queensland’s loyalty is the reason they have dominated for nearly a decade now? Here’s my breakdown of the Queensland selection conversation:

“Okay, so halves. Are we going Thurston and Cronk?”


Conversation over. Understandably so. That the NSW halfback conversation is seemingly even more truncated on the other hand is an absolute indictment on the judgment and intelligence of Laurie Daley and company.

Mitchell Pearce is now preparing for his tenth Origin. TEN. That puts him equal with Brett Kimmorley as NSW’s fourth-most capped halfback, behind only Sterling, Stuart and Johns (Des Hasler played 13 games but the majority as a bench utility). How insane is that?

Sorry, I got way off track there. I’m a proud New South Welshman but the selectors/coaches have made them a hard team to love of late. Anyway, back to Fifita. He has thoroughly earned his Blue jumper, even if he has leapfrogged the similarly deserving Aaron Woods in the process (I personally would have omitted Luke Lewis in favour of Woods, playing Gallen in the back row. Or kept Lewis but discarded the idea of playing a bench utility- I can’t think of many who have had much of an effect over the years).

In fantasy, Fifita’s rise has been even more pronounced. He was sneakily good at the back of last year, averaging 71 points a game from rounds 18-26. This was offset by an average of 45 in the twelve 2012 games he played before that however, and he ended the year ranked 52nd in the competition. For this reason he remained under the radar coming into 2013, and I imagine in most leagues would have been a mid-round, speculative draft selection. Fast forward eleven rounds however and he is the 4th ranked player in fantasy, with an average less than a point south of 80.

As Woods did a year ago, Fifita has now made the leap in fantasy. I was lucky to pick up Woods with the 23rd overall pick in the Making The Nut draft this year. If we were to have a redraft now it is ludicrous to think he would fall so far. Ditto for Fifita, who was by any measure the draft steal of the year. For Supercoach classic players, anyone who bought him at his opening market price of $280000 would be laughing. Both players are now without question blue chippers, and will be first round draft picks next season. The much vaunted fantasy pointscoring changes have failed to stop the domination of forwards, with John Sutton the only back with a top ten average among players to have played ten games or more. For that reason I think next year we will see the likes of Inglis, Cronk and Thurston et al.  falling into the second round.

Speaking of Sutton, he is another who has made the leap, with an average of 70. In fairness, it is a leap he has already made before- he was a top ten fantasy player in 2008 and 2009. But in the years since he has barely been mentioned in fantasy talk, making his resurgence all the more stunning. He had a failure on the weekend against the Sharks, posting only 34, but he was far from alone among his teammates in that regard, and it was only his fourth sub-50 score for the year. From a reality perspective, a potential Origin debut would be just reward for a player who is seemingly realising the boundless potential he has in the past only given us glimpses of. For mine he outpoints Josh Reynolds as the logical replacement for Gidley, his hard running and versatility a potential X-factor off the bench.

Then there’s Blake Ferguson. There has been some debate as to whether his selection was warranted (some of it coming from this very website- see this week’s From The Couch) but I’m quite happy to see him getting a run. I firmly believe it is shameful that Nathan Merritt has not yet represented NSW, but I am equally confident in saying that Morris and Ferguson on the wings is the right call. Ferguson’s potential for mishaps and defensive lapses borders on the catastrophic and I may well be eating my words on Wednesday night given we’ve all seen how damaging a defensive liability on the wing can be (UATE!!). But there’s something about him- a spark, call it what you will- that I just don’t see in Merritt. It is the right call.

Ferguson I would argue is only on the verge of making the fantasy leap. He, like most Canberra backs, has been a frustratingly inconsistent fantasy starter in the last couple of years, but has been outstanding in his last five games. The Raiders have three home games in their next five, all against teams outside the top 8 (I’m sorry, I refuse to acknowledge the Panthers as a top 8 team). Provided he is selected for NSW in game two, Ferguson will lamentably miss the opportunity to feast on the hapless Tigers at Campbelltown in Round 15, but there remain ample opportunities for Ferguson to prove his fantasy worth. If after those games he has maintained or improved on his season average of 66, I will be ready to declare that Ferguson has indeed made the leap. I just want to see a bit more.

Which we all will come Wednesday night, when fantasy leapers Fifita, Ferguson and hopefully Sutton display their wares. The reality that Woods won’t be joining them is an utterly preposterous one, so let’s hope that is fixed in time for game 2. Up the Blues.


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