This year my AFL Fantasy team ‘Gorringes & Lemmens’ finished 3rd overall – just 11 points off first place. I accrued the highest team value in the competition at over $19.5m (over $1m more than the overall winner) and placed in the top 100 for 20 of the 23 rounds played.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing! Mitch Duncan scored an injured 8 on debut; Callum Mills went into quarantine (and then got injured) when I needed him most; and there were plenty of poor selection decisions too.
So what does it take to build a Top 3 Fantasy side? How much luck do you really need?
Let’s take a look at how my team came together in 2021 and my guiding principles for fantasy success.
Picking a good starting team is the single most important thing to set you up for fantasy success. Rookies give you both points and cash generation and therefore I recommend building your team around the rookies you want to field and go from there. I started the year with 15 rookies in total (7 on ground + 8 on bench) because I thought they were all capable of scoring well and had decent job security. Rookie rucks looked like scoring better than rookies in other positions for the first few rounds so I elected to leave a ruck spot on ground for one of Flynn, Meek or Hunter. Going without Grundy also generated cash to afford an extra midfield premium. I panicked and picked Harry Sharp in defence but having the option to sub in Koschitzke (or Bergman via DPP) gave me confidence to pick that extra rookie.
Once I had the rookies picked, I looked at a few value players. Orazio had an easy run in the first few rounds so I thought a few goals would boost his scores (and value) before selling ASAP. Most of my other mid-pricers didn’t work out but as I had all the high-performing rookies, it didn’t hurt me too much in the end.
In premium players I looked for guys who could increase their average AND become a top 6 in their position. I didn’t want to trade these guys ever so I placed a priority on durability & consistency. Danger & De Goat didn’t quite meet those criteria so I’m not sure how they made my final team!!! Seven of my premium players stayed in my team all year which definitely helped me focus on improving other areas of my team. A guy like Jayden Short (93 avg) might not seem like a superstar but his ability to play every game cannot be underrated.
We all know captains count for double so don’t be afraid to splash out for the good ones! Four midfield premiums in Merrett, Macrae, Walsh & Taranto gave me a nice spread of captain options to always find one with a nice matchup and some form behind them. Macrae started the year with 14 straight 100s – definitely helps you sleep at night having that go-to guy there!
My team started slowly, only cracking the top 100 after Round 3.
The first few rounds I spent correcting those bad picks that you just cannot live with. Danger unsurprising got suspended for removing Jake Kelly’s head in Rd 1 so I got rid of him and the underperforming Jordan Clark for Nick Hind & Callum Mills (great roles = great scores). De Goat’s role and fitness just wasn’t there so he went in Rd 2 for Tex who went up a massive $150k in the 5 weeks I owned him. Note this strategy only works if you then have a trade for him later! Fortunately I was able to get rid of him before his 20 (yuck!!!).
In Rd 3 I traded two rookies who weren’t playing for Burgess & Robertson – love a rookie with a good role! Burgess in the ruck and Robertson on a wing meant they should score well (if picked). In Rd 5 I jumped ship on Orazio (small forwards always have bad weeks) to Lachie Jones which was the start of my war chest! I resisted the urge to dump an underperformer in Phillips to instead keep making coin (Meek to Treacy). Every dollar counts so don’t waste a trade! Even $60-70k per trade in the early rounds can help get you the upgrade you need a week early.
Following a few weeks of small cash grabs I finally had enough coin for a proper upgrade in Rd 6. I checked my bye round structure and realised I needed some premiums with the first bye round… enter Tom Mitchell.
He hadn’t set the world on fire yet with his scores but again, trade in guys you think will be top 6 in their position and you will be rewarded. I brought him in for $763k and he finished the year at $903k – bargain! It’s easy to keep swapping mid-pricers in the first few rounds but once you can get a rookie off the field for a big premium, your scores increase dramatically.
I then copped the Dunkley injury in Rd 7 so I used this as an opportunity to bring in Grundy and solve my Leon Cameron issues (Flynnsanity). I kept Flynn as he still had a lot of cash to make. Tex then had to go but at the perfect time – Aaron Hall had just come back from his concussion and looked incredible.
At this point in the year a lot of coaches were jumping on Ziebell but I really liked Hall and thought he provided value (unlike Ziebell who was $$$$). He also had the first bye which helped massively. Hall came in at $575k and finished the year at $855k – almost a $300k increase! Getting this kind of cash generation from a premium takes your team value to a next level.
Riley Collier-Dawkins was another must-get rookie as he had good job security, scoring potential and a later bye round so I downgraded to him and started him on my field. Constantly trading rookies made me enough money to bring in Josh Kelly pre-bye rounds and he did not disappoint, scoring five straight hundreds coming into my team. Don’t be afraid to bring in a guy who has the first bye round. If it works for your structure, it’ll make things a lot easier in the other rounds!
In Round 10 I brought in Harmes who seemed to have a midfield role again and a high-scoring rookie in Caleb Poulter. Any rookie that can score should be prioritised because not only do they make money, you can also field them! I got him quite late ($288k) but he still managed to make $200k for me before I ditched him. Importantly I got rid of rookies in the first bye round because I didn’t want to count on them getting a game in the final two rounds.
Round 11 – 15
Coming into the bye rounds I used my last few trades to sure up an even structure (essentially 10-10-10) and make sure my rookies were getting a game. If they don’t play, they don’t go up in value so having a full squad playing means you’ll have a few more dollars in the later rounds.
I picked up Bianco pre-bye as I figured he was too good to miss. I also copped the Grundy neck injury and made the call to trade (I banked on him missing more than 2 games). I also got sucked into Isaac Heeney like many other coaches! Not sure what the lesson is here – trade with your brain?
Three trades in a bye round means two down, one up.
Having such an even spread across the byes meant I was able to bring in Amartey & Reeves for some cash in Rd 13 and get a rookie up to Touk Miller. He was expensive but his form indicated he would be top 6 come year’s end and fresh off his bye was a no-brainer. More rookies left the team in Rd 14 to bring in Mitch Duncan who went on to get injured and score 8! This just shows that you can cop a few bullets and still get a decent season going.
The extra trade in Rd 14 allowed me to swallow my pride and remove Heeney just 2 weeks after trading him in – know when you’ve made a mistake and move on before it’s too late. Another rookie was downgraded to allow Duncan up to Jack Steele – again, don’t settle for a guy who won’t be top 6. Roy’s Rolling 22 is a great resource if you’re not sure who is top of their position.
Upgrading my midfield early (although expensive) meant two things:
- I had captain options a plenty.
- I still had rookies elsewhere generating cash and scoring on field. There are always a few rookies scoring well so leave a spot for them on field!
My engine room for Rd 15 – the big guns assemble!
Final Rounds (16-23)
The last few rounds are about completing your team whilst ensuring you’ve got rookies who can score on ground.
Jeremy Sharp popped up with an awesome fantasy-friendly role so I brought him and used the cash to get Grundy back in. My midfield guns started firing and I started to catch up to the top teams in the comp, sliding from 35 OVR to the top 20. De Goey came back into form so I again swallowed my pride and brought him back into the team. He finally got the midfield time he deserved and that was always going to translate to scoring.
I was happy with Bianco/Burgess and Sharp on field so I now focussed on fixing my ‘underperforming’ premiums – some 16 weeks after holding them! Phillips left for Danger; Langford left for Lloyd via DPP and Crisp came in for Harmes. I also jumped on Bramble (rookie with scoring potential) for some much needed bench cover. Sharp slowed down so I made the call to bring in my last midfielder – Jarryd Lyons.
My midfield was now seriously overpowered and dragging me into a top 10 finish.
The last few rounds were really then just keeping premiums on the field! I got caught up by the Callum Mills debacle (quarantine + Achilles injury) so after a few disappointing weeks from him cut ties and brought in Rich. Cal’s Scale of Hardness indicated Rich had an easy fixture in the last two rounds so that was a no-brainer. Lloyd turned into Zorko when he got dropped and then came back in for a final round Hail Mary for the car.
So what can you learn from me frantically falling short of a car? I’ve broken down the key plays which got me close:
1. Get high-scoring rookies on your field.
If a rookie looks like scoring well, get them on your team! A good role (e.g. wing, halfback) generally translates to good scoring, regardless of their age or experience.
2. Keep grabbing cash when you can.
My first upgrade took me approx. 4 downgrades to earn. Don’t waste your trades – keep building that war chest! Cash converts to points when you upgrade your on-field rookies.
3. Trade in Top 6 premiums before they cost Top 6 prices.
Trading in Aaron Hall at $800k won’t win you a car. Trading him in at <$600k will get you close!
4. Swallow your pride.
Trading in a guy who burnt you in the past hurts. But not trading them in sometimes hurts more. De Goey earned a second chance from all of us and there will be others next year!
5. You will never have a perfect year!
There will be injuries. There will be players who score 8 on debut for your team. There will be late withdrawals and sudden form slumps and some games you won’t see your player anywhere near it. But it doesn’t need to all go right for you to win it!
Thanks for reading this far and I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I’ll answer as many questions as I can in the comments! Also keen to hear your final takeaways from what was a challenging year.
I’ll definitely be winning the car next year (won’t we all) so make sure you follow my journey on Twitter @Lemon_DT.