The 2022 pre-season is officially done and dusted and with a week to go until the first Tuesday team list of the Telstra Premiership season proper, here are some of the key NRL Fantasy talking points from the trials.
Talking points from pre-season trials
Chris Randall is the Knights hooker
With Jayden Brailey out for an extended period, cash cow and tackle machine Chris Randall ($350k) will be a big-minute No.9 for the Knights. He made 37 tackles in the main trial (and scored 34 in Fantasy) so don't expect explosive price jumps but he'll be a tackle-heavy earner to start the year.
Will Penisini is the real deal
Budding Eels centre Will Penisini ($350k) had no shortage of classy touches in the Eels' romp against Penrith and will start the season at right centre ahead of Tom Opacic. He'd have scored 33 in Fantasy in that game, including four busts and a forced drop out, and could average that or more once the tries and assists start to flow.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Eels
Sean Russell set for extended chance
On the other side of the Eels' backline, rookie Sean Russell ($260k) is set to be the beneficiary of injuries to Maika Sivo and Haze Dunster. He only scored 22 Fantasy points with a try against Penrith and rookie wingers are generally risky in Fantasy but at least he's cheap and will play first grade.
Ethan Bullemor in line for big-minute role at Manly
Former Bronco Ethan Bullemor ($331k) has rocketed up the Manly edge forward pecking order. He will have to contend with the returns of Josh Schuster (ankle) and Haumole Olaka'uatu (elbow) roughly 4-6 weeks into the season but he is ahead of the likes of Karl Lawton and Andrew Davey. His 12 tackles and 60 run metres against the Tigers weren't eye-catching but he's cheap enough he should gain value to start the season.
Talatau Amone the best of Dragons' young guns
While Jayden Sullivan ($475k) and Tyrell Sloan ($500) are awkwardly priced, Talatau Amone ($350k) is not only much cheaper, he will be almost impossible to leave out of the No.6 jersey to start the season after two impressive trial performances. He only notched 31 Fantasy points in the Charity Shield but has the attacking skills to put up big scores on occasion while looks busy enough that his low scores shouldn't be too bad.
Hastings creates for Seyfarth
Jackson Hastings in for a big season at Wests Tigers
On his return from the Super League, former Rooster and Sea Eagle Jackson Hastings ($450k) had a touch of class around everything he did in guiding the Tigers to a trial win over the Roosters. His pass selection was top-notch and included a neat try-assist, his running game (109 metres with four busts) was a constant threat, and even his defence (20 tackles with two missed) was good. He didn't do much general play kicking and Luke Brooks seems to have sewn up the goal-kicking duties but Hastings' 43 Fantasy points was a positive sign given his starting price.
The year of Clifford?
It's early days but there was a lot to like Fantasy-wise about Jake Clifford's efforts in the final trial against the Storm. Yes, his score of 58 was inflated by a try (though he has scored in both trials by backing his running game). He also took almost all the kicking duties and is the first-choice goal kicker. His 58 points in 60 minutes on field would have been over 40 even without the try, including 85 run metres. As the team's main kicker and playmaker, even if the Knights don't score a stack of tries this year Clifford could still be very handy.
Clifford building his running game
Izack Tago set to be a popular cheapie
All indications are that rookie centre Izack Tago ($334k) has Penrith's right centre spot locked up. He's not quite a must-have cheapie at this stage though – for one his price is already well above baseline thanks to six games last year off the bench (with one try). Penrith are also a very left-side dominant attacking team. Tago's scores in the two trials would have been 34 against the Sharks with two line break assists and 23 against Parramatta, in a game the Eels dominated. Still, he looked very comfortable and could yet earn some price rises once Penrith have their best team on the park.
Mystery still surrounds Brandon Smith's 2022 role
The Roosters-bound Storm forward had some big scores last year, playing plenty of hooker with Harry Grant in and out through injury and scoring 11 tries. One would expect Grant to return to the starting side at some stage while emerging hooker Tyran Wishart could press for a bench spot at some point based on trial form.
Other than Wishart's strong form, there were no major clues around Smith's 2022 role from the final trial, although he did kick for a try when he got on. Smith could earn some big minutes at lock following Dale Finucane's departure but even so, he is more of an impact player whose high-octane style is most effective when used for shorter spells. There is also the matter of his future lying outside the club which could impact how much responsibility he is given. A best-case scenario sees him evolve into a hard-running, big-minute, ball-playing lock. Or he could remain a bench/impact weapon who struggles to match last year's try-scoring feats.