Despite a wealth of cheap back options, the fantasy majority are looking for their value in the forwards.
This is the final in the consensus series, which has comprised backs, midfielders and rucks. This is probably the easiest one to do because the choices are so clear-cut, judging from the Exteam databases I have been looking at.
#1 forward: Nick Riewoldt, the best forward in the game
This just shows you how one season can change perceptions in the fantasy world. Before last year the knock on buying Riewoldt early was that he always began slowly, and rarely enjoyed an uninterrupted run at a preseason. Despite being again hampered by injury niggles in the 2009 preseason he jumped out of the blocks with fantastic scores and went on with it all season. It is curious to me that the fantasy star chamber has now decided that this means that they will place all their faith in Rooey’s ability to start like a train, whereas they have abandoned Dean Cox – who has endured similarly poor preseasons but burst out of the blocks like Usain Bolt regardless – as too old and too wartorn. Similarly, Paul Chapman, who outscored Riewoldt last year by 6 points on average, is barely present in the popularity tables. I suppose 16, 17 and 17 games in the last three years for Chappy has something to do with that. Those few who don’t get Riewoldt reach down past the likes of Alan Didak, Steve Johnson and Leon Davis to Ryan O’Keefe. Why is it that the Magpie forwards are being shunned? Collingwood has significantly strengthened its engine room so theoretically there should be a lot more ball fed out to the Pie flotilla of small forwards by Darren Jolly and Luke Ball. There is also some muted enthusiasm for Adam Goodes, who lay doggo for most of the preseason but let us know he’s fine with a flat 100 in the last NAB game. As the fantasy industry got more mature I was expecting small forwards to start dominating popularity stakes, but it seems coaches still like their big man up front.
#2 forward: Daniel Giansiracusa, who looks good in a suit
You just know everyone’s mum/sister/girlfriend is going to lock Gia into their team just because he’s cute, especially with his shirt off. My mum certainly does. Those of us with a more critical eye are still wondering what exactly caused his lowered production last year, and whether the still-undisclosed injury will recur this season. His numbers have looked even better than he does this preseason, nonetheless, and he’s going to be in a shedload of sides. There’s nothing wrong with Shaun Higgins, Shannon Byrnes, Jared Brennan and Matthew Bate around his price, mind you.
#3 forward: Lance Franklin, the most recent 100-goalkicker
A lot of us waited for Buddy to come good last year. We waited and waited. A long time, we waited. It finally came in round 15 when it was too late, because he had already helped wreck our chances with thre sub-50s in the five preceding weeks. Then he got suspended for R22, and remains suspended until R2 of this year. Despite all these burned bridges, it seems fantasy coaches have some warmth in their hearts left for Buddy Love and want to ride that rollercoaster again in oh-ten. He seems to be fit now, but the problem is that Hawthorn’s got no ruckmen, which probably means Jarryd Roughead will have to ruck, which means Franklin will get isolated with multiple defenders cutting out his leads zoning off less-respected also-rans like Beau Dowler and Jarryd Morton. Or he’ll play too high up the ground as he did last year, which does terrible things for his kick-to-handball ratio: down from 4.1:1 in his hundred-goal year of 2008 to 1.4:1 in 2009. Franklin is around the same price as Gia so the same alternatives apply. There’s virtually no value in going lower at this slot.
#4 forward: Robbie Gray the forward-turned-midfielder
Okay, I get the justification. Gray was rumoured to be getting a lot of rotations through inside midfield in the preseason, and he showed what he was capable of with an impressive 83 in a losing side against the Bulldogs. A small forward turned engine room regular while retaining forward eligibility, it’s a no brainer pick in the mold of Leon Davis and Ryan O’Keefe. Gray has a history of soft tissue injuries and has struggled at times with running out games in the NAB, most notably in the last game where he finished on the bench with his groin iced. I suspect Gray’s body may not have 22 full games in it this season as a near-full-time midfielder. Question marks should be raised over whether he’s the type that will deliver you five weeks per year where you’ll be left scraping for replacements with Gray nursing “general soreness”, in the manner of Chapman and Gary Ablett jnr. If you’re buying him as someone you expect to upgrade, give yourself an uppercut because he’s priced too highly for you to be wasting a trade on his position.
#5 forward: Jack Ziebell, the high draft pick in the team bottoming out
Whereas Gray may get his average up to somewhere approximating the top seven forwards, I am not so sure with Ziebell, and this is where I think another structural flaw lies in the typical team. I think the average fantasy coach is expecting too much out of these second- and third-year players, and they’re going too far towards the mid-priced strategy. The main problem with the mid-priced strategy is that you tend to run out of cash to upgrade your middling players, so that a player like Ziebell might be 15 points off being a valid forward keeper despite improving his average, but because you haven’t made enough money elsewhere in the structure, you’re left with settling for his lower ceiling until the bitter end. You can handle a bloke priced at 45 averaging 80, but you can’t stomach it from several players priced at 65.
#6 forward: Barry Hall, the punchdrunk lover
Which brings me to the other bloke priced at about 65. Hall booted 17 goals in his three NAB Cup games, and averaged just over 90. Can he average six goals a game in the regular season? No AFL player has cracked 120 goals for the season since the days of Gary Ablett in the mid-1990s. There were times during those games where Hall didn’t get a touch for entire quarters, where the opposition worked hard to put pressure on the man with the ball running from midfield so that his passes fell short and were snaffled easily by the man sitting in the hole in front of Hall. Even in those short stints, you could see Hall’s frustration on his face and in his clenched fists. With the full complement of 96.25 points and 50% loading hanging over his head all season, Hall only needs to give an opponent a love tap to be suspended for at least one week. Even if he does complete a Cameron Mooney-like transformation into a child of peace and love, I don’t think his DT ceiling is much more than the 80 he scored in 2008. If you’re happy with yet another low-end keeper with extra donuts forecast late, Barry’s the gorilla for you.
#7 forward: Patrick Dangerfield, waddles like a duck but doesn’t score ducks
The fact that a player priced at 53 is the most popular #7 forward just shows you the preponderance of mid-range forwards that have dominated majority thinking in the forwards this preseason. If Dangerfield reached an 80 average from that price you might be happy with it from the #7 position, but you’re still paying a lot of money for him and you could be missing out on options with ceilings just as high beneath his price, or higher ceilings just above his price. I’m talking here of Hayden Ballantyne, Ben Warren, Chris Mayne and Sam Wright. All but the last of those do have reasonable level of representation in recent teams, but nowhere near Dangerfield’s popularity.
#8 forward: Tom Rockliff, the preseason special
Brisbane is always the hardest place to get news from in the preseason, but fantasy coaches seem to be confident that Rockliff will beat out the likes of Andrew Raines and James Hawksley for a spot in the round 1 Lions team. The cautionary tale of Albert Proud doesn’t seem to have deterred them, albeit that Proud’s sorry story – a similarly hot NAB followed by a mere two senior games that season – happened in the Leigh Matthews era. It would be ironic if Proud was the player who edged Rockliff out.
#9 forward: Cameron Hitchcock, the promoted rookie
A late charger from obscurity to overtake James Podsiadly. Does no one remember Wade Thompson, last year’s small forward bolter at Port who ended up another two-game disappointment? With David Rodan looming as early as round 2 for his return, I am not confident at all of Hitchcock’s job security.
That’s the finish of this feature for this year. I’d appreciate feedback on which bits you found useful, as I’m always testing out new features to see what works and what doesn’t. Be mindful, if you want to pot me, that my agenda here (in part) is to provoke thought and discussion, so if you think I’m just trolling you by attacking your favourite locked-in players for the hell of it… yes, yes I am.