Expert Q&A: AFL Fantasy top 30 rank Ben Cunningham on how to set up your season

Tasmania-based Collingwood supporter Ben Cunningham’s ‘Sly Bacon’ are currently inside the AFL Fantasy top 30 rankings after a blistering start to 2021 and he offered to explain what’s gone right.

The 22-year-old trolley collector, who unashamedly admits he has plenty of spare time on his hands to study AFL Fantasy, could have been sitting inside the top 10 if he didn’t get greedy with his captaincy choice in Round 4 too.

Instead, though, Ben is content to sit 29th overall with 8,055 points and firmly in contention for the top 10, just over 100 points behind the leader on 8,164 points.

Ben learned his lessons after starting 2020 slowly, sitting in the 50,000s before working his way back to finish around the 3,000th overall mark, so Honeyball chatted to him given his rise in 2021.

HB: You’ve had a great start to the 2021 AFL Fantasy season, what do you credit that with?

BC: It’s no secret that in order to achieve a high rank in the early rounds of the season, you need a degree of luck on your side. However, heading into the season with the right starting squad strategy is a huge contributor as well. Finding the right balance between premiums, mid-pricers and on-field rookies is essential to getting off to a flyer, and that’s largely what I credit my hot start to this season.

Like many successful coaches in previous seasons, I paid a premium for the rookies I envisioned having good job security and scoring potential, and it’s paid dividends. This, along with dodging bullets almost coaches have been burdened with has given me the flexibility to trade in the mid-pricers that I missed.

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HB: Ambiguous question but what’s your overall strategy and the underlying principles behind your decision making?

BC: It’s common knowledge that the overall aim of the game is to achieve a full squad of 22 premiums as quickly as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance between prioritising points, and generating cash. In the early rounds, I ensure that I’ve got the right rookies/mid-pricers, before even thinking about trading in premiums. Once I’ve got fattened cash cows/mid-pricers, I move them on to fallen premiums (never pay a premium for a player when there’s cheaper options around them, that will likely offer you a similar output).

I’m very strict with my trading and more often than not lock in my trades within the first few days of lockout lifting (unless I’m hit with forced trades). Outside of Fantasy I’m as stubborn as it gets and that’s no different when it comes to my overall strategy. I hold my premiums if they’re underperforming (until I have the luxury of trading them towards the backend of the season) and do my own research on players I’m looking at targeting.

HB: Can you talk to us about your original team layout?

BC: I didn’t start with a single player that I believed would average below the average that they were priced at, whether they were premiums, mid-pricers or rookies/inflated rookies. My original plan was to start a mid-pricer in each line, but with the shortage of rookie stocks in defence, I was forced to start both Markov and Clark.

The rationale behind the strategy was to give me more flexibility to move them on should one of them fail. I started with 12 premiums, 3 mid-pricers and 7 on-field rookies. In previous years I’ve been sucked in to starting too many PODs, which has seen me chase tail right from the get-go, so my strategy this season was to start with a rather vanilla side. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy, finding the right blend/balance of these players is a point of difference in itself. They’re popular for a reason.

“I’m fresh off gambling Merrett’s 115 (VC) on Grundy sending Mumford back into retirement!”

Ben Cunningham

HB: Best starting player this season?

BC: Geez it’s hard to split Matthew Flynn (R2) and Nick Hind, but I’ll have to give Nick the nod here. I was confident in his fantasy output this season given his switch to half back, despite managing only a 75 in the AAMI Series match against Geelong. In hindsight, this is probably what deterred a number of coaches from jumping on. The fact that there were so many forced trades early on, meant that coaches were scrambling to get him in. His relatively low ownership gave me a serious boost early on and contributed to the cushy rank that I’m sitting at currently.

HB: Have you had a blessed run with injuries/suspensions or had to do some shuffling?

BC: For once I’ve managed to avoid early season carnage (although it’s bound to come at some stage). Aside from Dangerfield, omitted rookies sitting on my pine are the only trades I’ve been forced to fix, which has helped me maximise cash generation going forward. In the early stages of the season, I’m very reluctant to leave an unnamed player in my squad if I can avoid it, even if it comes at the cost of waiting a week for a premium. I was fortunate to be ranked inside the top 1,000 after Round 1, so up until now I’ve been cautious with my trades.

HB: What guides your decision-making with trades?

BC: I targeted players that were highly owned within the top 100, to avoid a rank slip and solidify me as a contender for the 2021 season. When trading, I like to plan several weeks ahead. For example, trading in Jackson Macrae over Brad Crouch might leave you $150K short of being able to get in another keeper the following week. This sort of thing is important to factor into your decision making when it comes to finalising your trades for the week.

HB: Best trade you’ve made this season?

BC: As a Collingwood supporter it pains me to say it, but trading out Jordan De Goey early was a huge burden off my shoulders. I held him after his lacklustre performance in Round 1 (61) despite his role clearly not being as favourable as it looked in the pre-season. This was due to Patrick Dangerfield forcing my hand, and his attractive matchup the following week. After he notched up that 90-point score in Round 2 I counted my lucky stars and sent him on his way.

Since then he’s scored a 66 and a 44, and leaked a significant amount of cash in the process. Mid-pricers that clearly aren’t going to be keepers, should be moved on the second they begin to lose cash if you have the luxury (especially if the role isn’t there).

HB: How do you pick a VC/C each week and do you have a VC threshold?

BC: I might not be the best coach to answer this one, as I’m fresh off gambling Merrett’s 115 (VC) on Grundy sending Mumford back into retirement! In previous seasons 125 has been my (VC) line if I have a backup captain option which I think has a high ceiling that round. Although due to a decrease in said high ceiling scores this season, I’ll be lowering my line to 115. After missing out on 44 points on the weekend (enough to shoot me into the top 10) I think there’s a lesson to be learnt. Bank the points! Pick a line, stick to it, and don’t get greedy.

HB: Final piece of wisdom?

BC: If I could leave you with one final piece of advice it would be to follow a wide variety of trustworthy Fantasy content creators and reporters. Coaches can now receive fantasy content via podcasts, Facebook pages/groups, Twitter accounts, websites and more, and the community has never been more interactive. In saying this, don’t follow blindly. Do your due diligence before committing to a trade or strategy based purely on the word of another coach.

HB: Great stuff, Ben. Many thanks and good luck in 2021!

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