The “why didn’t I pick him” players

You’ve all done it. Round 1 of a new season, lockout is over and you can see everyone else’s teams, then the first round is completed and the rubber hits the road. You look over the scores and popularity of players, and you suddenly develop a big red welt on your forehead where you’ve just slapped yourself. “Why didn’t I pick him?” you exclaim. In the health interests of foreheads of Australian males everywhere, let’s try to stop that happening this year.

After round 1 of 2008, there were a few players of whom we were asking ourselves why, why, why. One of them was Josh Hill, the young forward from the Bulldogs who tore off scores of 86, 92 and 99 to start the season, eventually tapering off by round 8 to deliver a must-have cash cow windfall. By round 4 over 50,000 Dream Team coaches had picked him up, some trading across from the injured Scott Lucas and Stuart Dew, but others just burning a trade that would have come in mighty handy later in the season.

It’s easy to see why most of us overlooked Hill. The AFL Prospectus gave him a scant two lines of write-up, with Fantasy Freako’s terse three-word assessment being: “Needs more time.” Mr Fantasy’s take in the AFL Record fantasy guide was an equally non-committal “Prefer to wait and see how he goes in the NAB Cup.” Hill’s first NAB game against the Kangaroos produced a meager 13 points in DT and 12 in SC in very little game time, while the second round against Essendon was better with 75 in DT but a worrying 46 in SC. Notably though, Hill didn’t step foot on the ground at all in the first half of the Bombers game, with 25 DT points in Q3 and a massive 49 in Q4 in a game that the Bulldogs lost convincingly. Those who followed the Fantasy Freako newsletter would have noted that in the two untelevised NAB Challenge games that followed for the Bulldogs, Hill tallied 84 and 51 DT points. How is it possible to pick a bloke for your fantasy team based on one half of a “real” pre-season game where there is no pressure due to the entire half being garbage time, plus two other scratch matches that nobody saw?

As for who could be this year’s Josh Hill, there is a cast of thousands lining up, which in some ways is more troubling than if we had little to choose from. If we’re just talking slightly older medium-sized forwards, of course there’s Hayden Ballantyne, but everyone knows about him. Rohan Bail and Tom Rockliff are smokies at the right age and size. The player closest to Hill’s price, however, is Brad Dick of Collingwood, who played six games in 2007 but did a knee in the 2008 pre-season. From the sounds of pre-season training reports down at the Lexus Centre, Dick could be fighting with Anthony Corrie for a spot on the half-forward flank. That battle is worth keeping an eye on in the NAB.

Another name who was fiercely argued over after the fact in the early parts of the 2008 season was Daniel Bradshaw. Coming off a knee reconstruction the previous year at the ripe old age of 29, the strong majority of experienced fantasy coaches considered him, looked at his injury, looked at his age, and left him on the rack. The small minority who took the chance and watched it pay off to the tune of 20 matches at 76/92 – almost exactly the same numbers as the year before the knee reconstruction – were accused by the rest of picking him purely on name, ignoring what were quite obvious signs that he wasn’t going to average anywhere near what he did. Bradshaw only played the last of the four pre-season games, a NAB Challenge match in which he scored only 40 DT points but a massive 82 Super Coach points from only six disposals with one goal. I bought him from the start in SC based purely on that number plus a match report from a fan I read that talked him up in no uncertain terms, and I was pleasantly surprised with his performance – and got pilloried for siding with the nuff-nuffs. There’s no pleasing some people.

Again, there seem to be a number of players who are lining up to be the Bradshaw of 2009. Among the experienced key forwards, there’s the aforementioned Scott Lucas and Trent Hentschel, both of whom have serious question marks over their fitness levels, not to mention younger blokes going past them in the pecking order. At both the Dons and the Crows there are a host of younger players vying for the spots that Lucas and Hentschel would like to think they own, which is something Bradshaw didn’t have to contend with as there has been little competition for tall forward spots at the Lions in recent years. Both of these players must be watched all the way through the NAB, not just the televised games but the Challenge games, the stats for which I am sure will be published again in the Fantasy Freako newsletter.

The key takeway I have from looking back at Bradshaw and Hill is that it pays to drill down hard into preseason numbers, and to make sure you hunt down every last skerrick of information from fan forums and fantasy publications. There’s always a nugget of info – such as in 2007 when I found out too late that there had been a rumour about Dean Cox‘s fitness prior to his disastrous round 1 late withdrawal published on Eagles Flying High for all to see. Here’s hoping we can avert those kinds of horrors in 2009!

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