Let’s be honest: A LOT of the decisions you make regarding the team you take into round 1 are based on or at least affected by observations and numbers obtained from the pre-season games. This doesn’t mean that these numbers decide our teams, and nor should they! There’s many factors as to why a player you’re going in with didn’t actually show much or anything at all- most of the time we assume it is because they are established players who simply don’t care and are saving themselves for the ‘real stuff’.
The question is: How reliable are the trends we see for specific players when it comes to their pre-season performances? Let’s look at some numbers from the 2016 NAB Challenge games and assess how accurate they were in terms of predicting performances for individual players during the regular season. We’ll use points per 100 minutes (pp100) data focusing on AFL Fantasy/Dream Team numbers primarily, but it can mostly apply to SuperCoach scoring as well. Here are some players that as I retrospectively looked at, caught my eye:
Matt Crouch soared along at 137.5 pp100 during last year’s NAB Challenge across his 3 games, and whilst he didn’t quite reach those lofty heights during the season, he still had a break-out year averaging 93.3 (up from 71 in 2015).
Jarryd Lyons averaged an impressive 92.3 pp100 over 3 games and it probably came as a surprise to most that he also had a break-out and finished the season with an 89.2 average.
Sam Kerridge was one of the most popular starting players last year after making the move from Adelaide, despite being mid-priced. He went at 112.9 pp100 during the pre-season, which was higher than the 80.9 average he ended up producing but he was going at around 90 for the first half of the season and was a great option for us, so I’ll give this one a tick.
Ed Curnow played 3 NAB games at 98.9 pp100. We would have been thinking ‘surely he won’t continue that sort of scoring during the season, his 5-year career best average is 85.2!’ well we would have been wrong! Ed busted out a 101.7 average last year and the interesting part is the signs were there in the NAB!
Matthew Wright was another one who had moved to Carlton from Adelaide during the off-season and there was uncertainty surrounding what to expect from his new side. He’d shown flashes of fantasy potential at his former club so he was one to watch during NAB games. He went at 85.8 pp100 in 2 games and averaged 84.3 during the season, so this one was almost spot-on!
Taylor Adams monstered the pre-season, going at 130.9 pp100 over 3 games and had many people (including me!) excited about what he could do for our midfields. He ended up at a 102.9 average which was affected by injury, so I’ll give this one a tick as well.
Zach Merrett gave us strong signs in the pre-season competition by scoring at 116 pp100 from 2 games. We knew he would receive extra responsibility with senior players serving suspensions but we were unsure whether Essendon would get enough of the ball for their players to have high averages. Well, doubters would be ruing that and if you had the foresight to start Zach, congratulations as he went on to average 117.7!
David Zaharakis was in a similar boat. We knew he’d get responsibility but would that equate to extra points? He went at 105.6 pp100 during his 2 NAB games and in the first half of the season he was smashing that, however a tag almost every game in the 2nd half of the year meant his overall average slid down to 93.5. Based on his first half of the year however, I’ll give him a tick.
Matt Dea was signed to Essendon as a top-up player and we hoped he’d be able to provide us with a good rookie-priced pick in our backlines. His NAB was impressive, going at 82.6 pp100 in 2 games and most of us locked him in. A season average of 72 was a great cash-source for us and I’m sure most good sides started with him.
Patrick Dangerfield. 136.4 pp100 over 3 games. Plenty jumped on. 117.9 average from 22 games. Easy call.
Aaron Hall batted at 131.6 pp100 across his 3 games and was very much one of the hype players from this time last year. He backed it up with 9 Brownlow Medal votes in the first 3 rounds and finished with an average of 105.2 although it didn’t come without any hiccups along the way.
Heath Shaw had a career best year in 2015 and came in at a premium price for 2016. His NAB from was promising as he went at 109.0 over 2 games and he backed that up with a 101.7 average during the season.
Josh Kelly was a breakout contender last year and he showed good signs during the pre-season with 100.0 pp100 across the 3 games. During the year, he followed through during the season with an 89.8 average.
Jack Viney was big in his 3 NAB games, ticking along at 109.2 pp100. He had breakout written all over him and he lived up to that with a nice jump up to a 101.2 average.
Max Gawn was well and truly in our conversations by this point last year as well. He was coming off a 91.9 average and had been quoted during the off-season saying he ‘wanted to be the best ruckman in the league’. His NAB form was promising, going at 99.6 pp100 across his 3 games and during the season he backed it up and particularly in the second half, found another level to finish with a 106.5 average.
Daniel Wells was almost in the same boat as Sam Kerridge. Bargain price, we were all keen, he went at 114.5 pp100 in his 2 NAB games and 87.9 during the season.
Bachar Houli fired during his 2 NAB games and scored at 124.4 pp100. He struggled with injury throughout the year which meant he only played 12 games but he did average a nice 93.3- even if he danced between 130+ monsters and 50s. I feel like if he had played out the whole season he would have been a premium back for us so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Seb Ross wasn’t known as a big fantasy scorer in his first 3 years of senior footy but turned heads when he went at 113.8 pp100 in his 2 pre-season games. He backed it up during the regular season with a breakout year averaging 98.4.
Tom Mitchell has always been on our radars as a big-time fantasy player. His 3 games at 107.3 pp100 for the Swans assured us he would maintain his high scoring even if he fell out of favour with his coach (again!). He started the year strongly before being handed some non-friendly roles in terms of fantasy but still averaged 105.6 for the season.
Jason Johannisen put his hand up as a premium defender option by scoring at 106.3 pp100 across his 2 NAB games. He only managed to play 13 games due to injury problems but he still had a breakout 93.3 average.
Lachie Hunter was another popular midfield breakout contender and he impressed during the NAB as he scored at 99.0 pp100 from 2 games. He had a huge first half of the season before fading a bit in the second half to average 103.3 across 22 games.
Mitch Robinson filled a lot of us with hope and tempted us into picking him after scoring at 116.9 pp100 over his 2 games, only to average a disappointing 84.5 during the season.
Ryan Harwood also made us feel too comfortable despite the fact it was March by scoring at 105.1 pp100 across his 2 NAB games. His near-rookie price made him a very popular option and he ended up stinking for us with a 53.5 average.
Alex Fasolo went at a surprising 112.3 from his 3 games. I don’t think many would have been sucked in, and rightfully so as his season average was only 70. Not sure what happened in the pre-season (different role with others out, maybe?) but this one is definitely a cross.
Jordan De Goey was a bit of a hype player this time last year as a possible break-out candidate. He would have impressed owners with 100.5 pp100 across his 2 games however when it came to crunch-time, he couldn’t secure himself regular midfield minutes (even with Dane Swan injuring himself for the season) and could only muster 75.5.
Tom Sheridan sucked plenty into starting him with a nice 89.0 pp100 from 3 NAB games. A lot who didn’t start him would have picked him up after his 116 in round 1, however it was all downhill from there as that was his only ton and he finished with a 67.9 average. To be fair to him, it wasn’t too much lower than his NAB form but it was enough to burn plenty of coaches.
Zac Smith enjoyed his 3 pre-season games as he scored at 100.0 pp100. The same can’t be said for him during the regular season though as he managed to average just 65.8.
Jesse Lonergan impressed us in his 2 games to 133.0 pp100. I was hesitant to include him in here as he did have limited TOG, however it was enough to suck coaches (including myself!) into starting with him and we were very disappointed with his 66.8 average.
Jack Steele was a tempting option for a breakout and went at a nice 88.7 pp100 over 3 games. Unfortunately, his role (when he wasn’t playing NEAFL!) wasn’t the same as it was during the pre-season and he only managed 71.6.
Daniel Howe rocketed onto our radars by playing all 3 games scoring a very enticing 100.0 pp100 only to crash and burn when the season begun (firstly by missing the first game after our teams were locked out!) and all he gave us was 10 games at a 67 average.
Josh P Kennedy played 3 games at a meagre 74.9 pp100. Luckily, it was not a sign of things to come as JPK eventually went on to achieve a career-high 108.1 average including his token post-bye run of form.
Brad Sheppard had the fantasy world buzzing after clocking 95.5 pp100 across his 3 NAB games. A breakout wasn’t to be though, as he only went at 64.2 from his 22 games during the season.
The Middle Ground:
Michael Barlow is an interesting one. He was smashing out 124.2 pp100 across his 3 NAB games and during the season at various stages he looked like somewhat replicating his form, but a combination of injuries and Ross Lyon having a vendetta against our fantasy teams led to him playing just 13 games at an average of 96.5. This one is hard to call either way as I have no doubt uninjured and playing under a different coach he would have averaged 105+ so I’ll leave this one as neutral.
Touk Miller also was handy for Gold Coast during the pre-season, scoring at 111.3 pp100 from 3 games. This one is interesting as his first half of the year was nowhere near this level, however he did move to the midfield and came home like a steam-train in the second-half of the year to finish with an 81.6 average.
Sam Gray was another popular breakout contender and gathered interest during his NAB campaign going at 92.8 pp100 from his 3 games. This one is interesting because his final average for the year was 87 which wasn’t too far from his pre-season form, however he didn’t start so well going at 79 across his first 5 games as well as getting dropped to the SANFL for a while. He came back in and finished strongly to raise his average.
So, what can we take from all of this? Unfortunately, the solution is not black and white. It’s clear that there were plenty of examples of the pre-season scoring pre-empting the form of the home and away games as well as plenty which were very misleading. For most of the cases where there were strong NAB numbers which didn’t carry on during the season, it appears it was because that player didn’t maintain the same role due to the return and heightened responsibility of other senior players.
I think this shows that it is absolutely critical that when you pick a player based on their JLT series this season, that you are comfortable that they will almost definitely maintain the same role and that their scoring won’t be threatened by returning established players.
Good luck in determining which players during the JLT scored big because they are primed for breakout year and which ones are traps due to getting a shot at a role they won’t hold during the season!