EXPERT Q&A: 2019 SuperCoach contender Luka Torlak on nailing your starting team

Melbourne teenager Luka Torlak was in the mix for the SuperCoach top prize last year, climbing as high as 25th before sliding just outside the top 100. Nailing his starting side was the key.

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The 18-year-old Commerce and Computer Science University student, who supports Hawthorn, peaked at 25th in Round Seven after an excellent start where he nailed two point of difference players and got all the key rookies.

He stalled to an extent midway through the year before a late surge, including a monster score 2,932 in the final round saw his team titled ‘yucky’ finish 135th for the year.

But, for Luka, his success was all about doing the research to nail that original 30 which set up his season.

In 2020, his re-branded team ‘Barry McKokoner’ (Luka says “clearly I’m bad at naming teams”) currently sits at 1,610th overall, so Honeyball caught up with him to discuss how 2019 went so well and what’s quite not worked in 2020.

HB: Gday Luka, first of all, what’s the latest with Barry McKokoner?

LT: It’s not going too bad. I’m at 1610th but I’ve been surging. My team got stuffed up when Essendon and Melbourne didn’t play earlier in the year. I could barely field a team which hit my ranking hard but I’ve recovered pretty strongly.

HB: Nice! How’d you recover?

LT: I’ve been pretty good with my cash generation. I nailed my rookies at the start so cash is flowing in. I got Pittonet as R3 which is always good, so I got more cash from there.

HB: OK, tell us about 2019 when you came 135th and got as high as 25th?

LT: The year went really, really well. It was really smooth. I’m the type of person who likes to take a few risks. Some paid off, some didn’t do so well. I was pretty consistent throughout the entire year. I attribute a lot of my success to my starting team. I feel like I nailed it that year.

HB: So what was the plan for that original 30-man team?

LT: I’m a big believer in the guns and rookies scenario. But I take a few more risks than a lot of people. If you’re looking to be in the top 1% of coaches you have to bring in a point of difference (POD) or two. I usually start with at least two points of differences. I really try to nail those. If I do, I know I’m in for a big year.

HB: Who’d you nail last year?

LT: Both my PODs. Last year I started with both Hurn and Boak. I didn’t do so well the year before as I was going for more possession defenders. I really wanted an intercept defender with Hurn. I did my research. He’s always been consistent and I thought I’d take a crack with him and it definitely paid off.

With Boak, I heard news he was going to be playing more through the midfield. Looking at his track record, his centre bounces etc, whenever he got more of a run through the middle he did really well. So I thought he was a really good option.

HB: I’ve chased PODs and it’s ended disastrously! Do you have any horror stories?

LT: I actually don’t.

HB: You’ve always nailed it! So the key is to do your research?

LT: It is. It’s not easy. I’m pretty active on Twitter. Whenever a name of a point of difference pops up, I’ll look into it. I’ll look into their record and see if they fit into my team.

HB: How do you research, for example, what boxes do you need tick to get a POD?

LT: With my pods, I’m not going to have a guess at a breakout player per se. I pick proven players who average 80-85 for a few years who are getting a role change or coming into form. It needs to be someone I know who won’t bust. They might not go massive but they won’t bust.

HB: Tell us about the big moves you made in 2019?

LT: I attribute a lot of last year to getting Reilly O’Brien at R3 early. That cash generation was crucial because by the time he got up to $550k I was ready to cash him in and get a free premium. For people who didn’t have him, I was immediately one premium up on them by investing in him at the start.

HB: How’d you make that call, given everyone expected Sauce Jacobs to come back relatively promptly?

LT: I had a ruck-forward, I was trading a forward-rookie out anyway and I thought I’d take the punt on him and it wouldn’t cost me. He went crazy during the bye rounds when Grundy was out so I got his score then. That definitely helped. I think he had a 150-160 against Richmond as well, maybe higher.

HB: What other moves did you make to get as high as 25th?

LT: I’m not going to trade in PODs through the year. I start with my two PODs then I’ll bring in guys like Treloar and Oliver, you know what you’re going to get from them. That’s crucial.

It ended up being a low risk team even though at the start I risked quite a bit. I was definitely up there at the get-go. Boak averaged 130 in the first few weeks and Hurn too. Right from the early weeks I was up there and never really looked back from there.

HB: Did you think you were ever a chance to win SuperCoach overall in 2019?

LT: I dropped off a bit late in the year but I surged back in the last few rounds. The last round I scored 2,900. I thought I was going to take out the round but there’s always someone who scores higher. I think I finished 160-ish for the round. I remember Neale scored 190. I honestly think everyone in my team went above 120 that round. It was insane.

HB: OK. Let’s talk broad strategy. Do you wait till players are cheaper or get them whenever you can?

LT: I’m a big believer in looking for value in defence and up forward but in the midfield I’m not searching for value, I’m looking for the guns.

For example this year someone like Bailey Smith up forward, he’s insane value, but in the mids I’m not going to go for Yeo (before he was injured) who was value. I want the Macrae’s of the world who I can count on getting 120 week-in week-out so it doesn’t matter how much they cost.

The midfield is where a lot of your points are coming from. Mids and rucks. You have to start Gawn and Grundy and you have to get the best mids.

HB: Do you mull over trades all week or just spend an hour or two on it?

LT: Typically I make my gut trades without thinking it through right as SuperCoach opens for the week. I’ll make that trade on a Sunday night then by Wednesday/Thursday I’ll listen to a podcast, figure out who’s hot, look at three-round averages and think about who I want to bring into my team.

Luka’s Round 3 side in 2019

HB: Does the way you make those decisions at trade time evolve as the season goes?

LT: I guess it does. At the start, I’m more looking long term or medium term, but towards the end of the year you’re looking for whose in form and can give a big boost to your side.

When the season is underway I try to get the players that everyone is getting. A lot of the time the top 1-2% of teams have essentially the same players, but with those PODs, if I nail them I’ve got those players but also the ones they have so it really propels me forward.

HB: Do you worry much about breakevens?

LT: I’m not too fussed with premiums on breakevens, unless it’s 170 or above .Otherwise I’ll think about holding a week or two. If the breakeven is around their average, I’ll get them in, otherwise you’re losing points if you’re waiting a week or two. In a year like this I can see people being more fussy with it. It’s tough with a year like this.

HB: How do you select a captain each week?

LT: For a captain each week it depends who plays first, Grundy or Gawn! Lock one in for vice, if they don’t perform, you make the other captain. It’s as easy as that.

At the start of last year I was taking a few risks. I remember Coniglio scored 200 one round and the next round you chuck the VC on him to see what happens. But I never risk my captain. If a team is playing Gold Coast previously or Adelaide on a Friday night, if it’s a Macrae type you can put the VC on him but I’ll never go blind into that captain. With a ruck you can be safe even if they don’t bring their A-game, they’re still going to score 100-110 points.

HB: Let’s finish with a final thought/piece of wisdom?

LT: I’m a big believer in sometimes trusting your gut but thinking ahead. A lot of the time when you’re bringing a trade in you’re thinking who are they playing this round but you need to be smarter than that. You have to scope out the player, the team, see their role in the team. Don’t go points chasing based on recent scores.

HB: Legendary Luka, thanks for your time, good luck for Barry McKokoner for the rest of 2020 and with uni!

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