EXPERT Q&A: Serial SuperCoach contender & former top 30 finisher AB

Hawthorn fan Anthony (AB) (pictured centre above) is a perennial SuperCoach contender, finishing 28th in 2017, 393rd in 2016 and he’s currently in the hunt for this year’s prize sitting inside the top 400 in 2020.

In 2016, the 29-year-old Melburnian sat inside the top 200 for 10 rounds but eventually made the error of running out of trades and slipped to 393rd.

In 2017, he applied some lessons which combined with a shrewd starting line-up and some luck helped him get as high as 12th in Round 12 of 2017.

AB hovered within the top 100 from Rounds 10 to Rounds 23, but couldn’t break into the top 10.

He’s in contention again in 2020 and offered to speak to Honeyball to discuss his strategy and philosophy which has held him in good stead.

HB: Thanks for offering your time to chat, AB. Firstly I’ve talked up your 2016 and 2017 seasons and I’m going to pump up your tyres but we’ve gotta ask what happened in 2018 and 2019?

AB: No worries, thanks for having me. Last year was pretty bad. I made a couple of big blunders. I was top 3000 in 2018. The last two years have been a bit light but I’m currently about 320th overall.

HB: I’d still be happy with top 3000! But anyway obviously I want to focus on 2016 and 2017 and what went right?

AB: In 2016 and 2017 it was essentially all about trying to get the right structure. I know it sounds quite obvious but you want to get the best rookies and premiums. It’s a bit hard this year with less rounds as the strategy has been to become more aggressive.

My general philosophy at the start is, regardless of initial job security, to try fill your team out with as many rookies as possible that are actually going to play. A lot of people are trying to get loopholes, which is fair enough, but there’s a very high chance of probability that one of the rookies is going to probably get injured or dropped the following week so they’re going to turn into a loophole rookie regardless. Don’t chance on rookies to play on Round Two or Round Three, make sure you get the rookies who are playing. Try and take a stab at a few of the other rookies that aren’t as common.

In 2016 I picked everything right. I remember I had Tom Papley who was a forward rookie and no one really had him. He was one of the best. Not having to trade in rookies, saves trades.

I was pretty much in cruise control. I didn’t start with Fyfe who was really expensive that year. I remember he got super hot after Round Four or Five. I traded him in as he had a low breakeven but was playing Carlton – the worst team at the time. When I traded him in it was the game he got injured for the rest of the season. Trading him in and losing that cash threw off my season. I burnt all my trades by Rounds 14-15. In 2016 I had a large time in the top 100 but that drifted out with trades because I’d been aggressive.

In 2017 that was my best year ever, when I came 28th. I was really in the mix to win it overall. In 2017 I started with premium defenders in the backline Tyler Adams and Sam Docherty. A lot of people were anti-Taylor Adams because of his injury history. He was playing pure mid, so you just knew he was going to break out.

A big one was choosing Docherty over Heath Shaw. Shaw was coming off a monster year the year before but in the second half of the year he was getting forward tagged. Everyone started with Shaw over Docherty. Docherty had had his breakout year but nobody thought that’d be sustainable. Taking that risk was like taking Walters over Whitfeld this year.

I had all the right rookies. Even the midfield, there was minimal midfield rookies. I had Dangerfield, Pendlebury, Treloar, Selwood, Fyfe and Tom Mitchell, Dayne Beams at $430k, Jaeger at M8 at $300k. I really loaded up on the mids.

HB: Wait, so that was your Round One team?

AB: Yep. This is just before the Gawn-Grundy must-have stage, so you could take that money out of the rucks. With Fyfe and Mitchell being $560k each it wasn’t like you’re paying $650k each. I had Ryder and Sandilands in the rucks. Everyone had Sandi at $300k. There was Dahlhaus, Higgins, Nankervis and Roughead. That was the catalyst behind it. I picked all mid-pricers right, I had all the right rookies.

Amazingly after the first game in Round One, it was Richmond-Carlton, I wanted to get Marc Murphy all pre-season as he was $430k. I remember he scored 130 in the first game of the season, so I tweaked my team during Round One during rolling lockout while there were unlimited trades to make sure I had enough extra cash to accommodate trading in murphy the following week. I think I turned Taranto and Kayne Turner into base rookies. I used that cash the following week. It was super risky as Jaeger was looking quite good, but I moved him to Murphy. I went to the Round Two game and Jaeger got 37 touches against Carlton but 25 were handballs and he only scored 87. I was stressing but murphy scored 130 that round and the next week Jaeger started getting knee soreness. It set my season up.

HB: To jump in, your decision to get Murphy is a bit of a ballsy call. What was it that you liked about him from Round One? Was it just the big score, or good value or something else?

AB: The thing with Murphy was it was like you could try before you buy. Having seen him score that 130 and still being able to correct that the next week without doing multiple trades and just doing the trades while they’re still unlimited.

That was the reason. He had proven scoring history. There was an article that said he’d had his best pre-season ever without hindrance. That was my rationale. If he could re-capture his previous form, I thought he could be up there. A lot of people say “he’s not going to be top eight, there’s no point getting him”. But you don’t know how things will play out. He ended up being top 10, because he played 22 games and averaged 108. You have to take those calculated risks.

HB: That’s an interesting point in the context of 2020 where given the stop-start beginning of the season and allowance of additional trades, there was the seduction of Round One scores which essentially is a really small sample size. How do you weed through that?

AB: You can get a gauge when it’s like a proven player. The hardest challenge is picking who the breakout player is going to be and who can sustain that. We saw a few of them drop out quickly. For example is Jy Simpkin going to be a top six forward? There’s been so many over the years who’ve started hot and dropped off.

The best thing to do when you’re trading in a premium is to ask how can you maximize your advantage and try and finish your team quicker than others. What people always have to remember is players do have form slumps and they do come out of it. Last year I started with Josh Dunkley but after Rounds Two and Three everyone told me to trade him out. I remember people were trading up $200k from Dunkley to Boak. Sure, Boak is going to be top six but you’re basically sideways trading up. From that point on you don’t know how that’s going to pan out. I base it on price, upcoming schedule and taggers. There’s a few factors. That’s probably the best way about it.

HB: So you’re saying, ride your premiums?

AB: There is an opportunity early in the season between Rounds Two and Three to switch them around. I know this year I traded out Houston and Brayshaw who look good now. There’s no way of knowing if they’re going to come good.

You have to always make sure you’ve got the right players. If you’ve got Neale, Fyfe, Gawn and Grundy, everything else complements that, you can take more risks. When you don’t have those players and you try to cut corners, that’s when you start getting yourself in a hole you can’t get out.

The people who are waiting for Neale to go down in price, that might not happen for another four or five weeks. If you’re every going to sideways, you want to get one of the hottest players that you don’t have.

HB: Does the way you trade change as the season goes on?

AB: Yeah, look, as the season goes on, it gets quite tough because you don’t know what’s on the horizon. Nothing’s worse when you trade a player and then they get injured and then it’s sort of like in and out.

I had a mate the other week who traded in both Stewart and Fyfe when they got injured and he moved them both straight out.

There’s a few I’d never trade out. Fyfe is one of them because it is too risky to trade them out and then trade them back in because there’s a good chance that he might get injured.

Fyfe and Whitifeld are in that category, never trade out unless it’s a serious injury. A lot of people last year spent two-three trades on Whitifeld. Even this year people thought there was an advantage trading him out and trading him back in, but there’s really no advantage trading out premiums for the short term.

HB: If I can jump in, obviously at the start of the year it’s really hard to generate cash and with Whitfield this year that was the dilemma. How do you generate cash early in the season?

AB: If I could do one thing different this year, it would be starting without Whitfield, obviously with his concussion score. At $600k there’s a lot more value in the forward line so you can spread that across more.

We’re actually quite lucky this year because the rookies have made a bit of value, like Starcevich, McInerney for a bit, Pittonet. I think the best strategy is trying to fill out your whole team with rookies.

You have to take your chances with the rookies. You can’t hold any rookies that are stagnating. Any rookies who look like they’re not going to play anytime soon, that’s literally just money wasted away on the bench.

I know a lot of people have Pittonet as a second ruck and they’ve got a lot of money there. You might as well take that money out and get Gawn.

Don’t be afraid to move some of those middle tier rookies. Early advice, be trying to get as many rookies as possible, then take your chances and make sure you don’t let any of the best rookies slip because people who didn’t get Pittonet are so far behind.

HB: Everyone’s monitoring the breakevens. Do you wait for them to max out or do you just pull the trigger?

AB: It’s kind of a mixture of the two factors of the job security and their scoring potential. That’s why I took the risk on trading Marlion Pickett last month. Unfortunately, now Richmond have got all these injuries so he’s come back in. But I thought is he going to come back in? This is the week to get Stephen hill, there’s no money stagnating on the bench and it’s hard to get a gauge of when they max out or not.

Breakevens play a huge factor, because the last thing is you want them to regress and you’ve lost $40-$50k. in saying that I’d rather be more aggressive than too conservative. I’d rather lean on the more aggressive side. Even if you lose out on a bit of extra cash and extra points, it’ll all come crashing down when you’re too reliant on these rookies.

In saying that you need to keep your best rookies on the field. Let them fully max out and don’t go too early. Go aggressive on the bench players who aren’t playing. Only move on-field ones when there’s suitable targets.

HB: Do you mull over trades? Are you one of those guys who thinks about trades at the end of a round and then all week?

AB: One of my favorite things is to wait for when lockout opens on a Sunday night. I always like to see what my rank is and how the league is going. You’ve only got two trades a week so you can forward think quite easily.

I do like to strategize earlier in the week. There’s only so much you can do because it’s dependent on secret injuries and teams in and out and things like that. It’s better to have a good plan in place, trial a few things out, mix things around.

You can also plan things out too, if someone gets injured and scores low, you know in two or three weeks’ time they’re going to be gettable, like Bailey Smith a few weeks back. If that’s the case, you can plan accordingly.

HB: Like a game of chess. With that in mind, do you have a spreadsheet or a notepad to keep track on those players on your radar?

AB: No, not so much. I usually try not to keep things lopsided position wise. If you’re lopsided you’re going to get caught out when a rookie gets dropped. rookies are more vulnerable. At least that way, all the levels are lined up.

Instead of trading out premiums, I’d say trade around them. People get too reactive to injuries or bad scores and they rage trade. If you rage trade, you set yourself further back. It’ll give you a false sense of artificially finishing your team quicker. Actually if you don’t have these ultra premiums you’re quite far off the pace.

Never factor in someone’s schedule too much. It’s all about spreading your money as much as possible and stretching it. In saying that, at the start of the season I moved Macrae down to Danger, Sicily down to Howe, small things like that, obviously we had the luxury of five trades, but it was to make sure I don’t have another player who’s a rookie on the field, like Zerk-Thatcher. Macrae and Sicily dropped a fair bit, Howe went up a bit. If you downgrade to premiums, you’ve got to hope you don’t lose points.

HB: Let’s talk about 2017 again with all that philosophy in mind. Can you tell us some of the success stories?

AB: The success was purely based on getting the structure right. I loaded up on the mids. I remember this was Sam Powell-Pepper’S rookie year and I had him at M9, a lot of people had him on the field. Doing that Marc Murphy trade and trading out Roughead to Witts, who was like the Pittonet of this year, that spread out my team.

Higgins and Nakn in 2017 were keepers as well. They both went 90 plus. It was a dream year. Docherty over Shaw. Those forward mid pricers hit. All the mids hit. Having all the right rookies too. I had so much cash left over, so I had so many luxury trades. They were the catalysts behind my success.

HB: Could you have done anything better?

AB: I look back sometimes on it and think what else could I have done. I had Treloar and I was thinking of trading him in for Clayton Oliver who was in his second year. If I’d made that trade I could’ve finished top 10, but there’s all these hypotheticals.

With 2017, it was really hitting the mid-pricers, hitting the structure, hitting the rookies too. Usually those three that set you up. Also not sideways trading ad having a nice even spread of cash.

HB: You were in the top 100 for a long time in 2017. When that happens there’s a tendency not to do too many radical moves so you don’t slip, but you also need to be bold to go up?

AB: Spot on. It was a bit of a tricky one because I started with Ryder. He averaged 80 in his first 4 games and it was same with Dunkley last year. Classic example, “trade him out while you can, he’s losing value, he’s not going to be top six”. I remember one game he played West Coast in Round Six or Seven and he scored 139 and then that was it, he found his form. That’s another perfect example of holding premiums because he wasn’t an issue. He’s still scoring a lot better than a rookie. He’s not scoring like a super premium but you don’t know how it’s going level out.

And another the other big success was lucky because Gawn was actually quite good that season and he was super expensive to start with. He actually got injured in Round Three, which was the bubble game and he did his hamstring and finished on 40 so whoever started with him completely lost that advantage because he’s just dropped by $40-$50k.

One of the biggest wildcards that I had to play was during those byes when Gold Coast and Port Adelaide played that game in China and I had Ryder and Witts. A lot traded out Witts at that time but I felt there was advantage keeping those and playing them after they’ve had their bye. I was going to get a zero unless I traded one or traded in a rookie and by luck it was Hugh Greenwood’s debut and he was playing Brisbane away who were quite average. I remember he kicked three goals on debut and scored 104.

It was just one of those years where a huge risk like trading a rookie on debut paid off. You’d not taking a risk like that normally. I knew Greenwood was mature age or that they’re going to bring something and they’re readymade and have a role. If you’re going to take a chance, back in someone who’s got mature experience.

HB: How about captains?

AB: 2017 was the year Tom Mitchell broke out. You could bank him for 130. This was before the two super rucks so it was very midfield based. Dangerfield was unstoppable those years, so it was a mixture of Mitchell and Dangerfield, based on who had an easier fixture.

HB: Do you VC loophole every week?

AB: That’s the best way to go about it. I’ve got real fears you’re going to be the guy that captains a guy when he gets inured and you lose 100 points. My threshold is about 130. That’s always the safest.

There’s so much that goes against it. Scoring over 130 the percentage is quite low. In saying that, with Grundy and Gawn if they’re playing an inexperienced ruck and if Neale scored 130, I’d consider it.

HB: We always like to finish with one final piece of wisdom/advice?

AB: The best thing you can do, if you’re chasing overall rankings, you’ve got to think ahead about where’s most advantageous to use your trades. I feel a lot of teams when they trade a premium who’s lost value, as soon as you do that, you’ve lost that. It’s the same principles as any investment or finance. As soon as you do that, it’s a big swing.

You’ve got to treat your money diligently. Make sure you hold your premiums. Your number one concern is getting your rookies off the field. Often they score 30, so it’s volatile. With premiums it’s rare they’ll get dropped.

The other piece of advice is always make sure you’ve got the ultra premiums, Lloyd, Docherty, Gawn, Grundy, Fyfe and Neale. and whoever other smokies are like Petracca. Then you can take more risk with Yeo or players who’ve lost value. All the ultra premiums can lift you off. Always hold tight, don’t trade your premiums, try and fill out your team with the best rookies, best cover and best cash generation. And if you’re going to trade in a premium, make sure they don’t have a high breakeven.

HB: Anthony, thanks so much for your time and good luck chasing that SuperCoach title in 2020!

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