Expert Q&A: 2020 AFL Fantasy winner Trent Sutcliffe on how to know who to trade-in
Sydney-based 48-year-old Christian pastor Trent Sutcliffe plays plenty of Fantasy sports but he achieved the AFL Fantasy holy grail of taking out the top prize in 2020, despite trading in Mark Blicavs for a final round score of 37.
The Sydney Swans and St George Illawarra fan, whose Fantasy team is called Aluniesheis after his eccentric daughter, plays AFL Fantasy, AFL SuperCoach and NRL SuperCoach, but ditched the latter two once it was clear he was in contention for the Toyota Hilux and cash prize.
He’d previously been more focused on NRL SuperCoach but utilizing his key principles, analysing time on ground (TOG) and points-per-minute (PPM), made the right calls to lead him to AFL Fantasy glory.
HB: Tell us about the win?
Trent: It was an amazing ride. I was close to the lead early which meant I focused exclusively on AFL Fantasy. I was in the top three for the last 10 weeks or so and hit the front five weeks out. I didn’t get that stressed until the last round. My worst trade was easily Blicavs in the final round. I initially had traded Daniel Rich in, but when it rained I second-guessed myself, took him out and he got 100. Blicavs was on 5 at half-time and I was chucking the toys out of the cot. But it worked out with others like Lachie Hunter and Taylor Adams.
I sold the car and bought a smaller car for the kids to drive. Kept a bit of money. We’re hopeful to find time to enjoy a holiday when we can.
HB: Best and worst moves?
Trent: I had three moves which my season hung on. The first was when Max Gawn was injured. I’d just got into the top 10 and thought it was make or break. I decided to downgrade Gawn to Oscar McInerney and use the cash to upgrade Marlion Pickett to Taylor Adams and a rookie upgrade in defence to Jackson Thurlow. Those trades made the most difference and taught me the importance of trading for value across lines.
The second key trade was looping Lachlan Sholl and Damon Greaves the last three weeks in defence. The rolling lockout enabled this. They scored almost premium prices from the bench. That cash freed up the money for the last important trade which was from Stephen Coniglio to Tom Rockliff who I captained when he went amazing in the second last round.
HB: You were high early. What set you up?
Trent: I started with Lachie Neale and captained him nearly every week in the first few months, along with Jack Macrae. The best play was the luck of my structure where I chose Lachie Whitfield, Christian Petracca, Bailey Smith and Andy Brayshaw who stayed in the side the entire year. Nailing one line made a massive difference overall. It allowed the concentration of trades in other lines.
HB: What’s your key strategy?
Trent: My strategy has always been guns and rookies and never buy on speculation. I want to see evidence of a role change or improvement at the end of the previous season or in pre-season. Luck plays a big part, when a player gets injured or is on a run of scores. My luck was being able to trade a player who was injured without affecting my structure, like Jeremy Howe and Gawn.
HB: What helps you form those decisions?
Trent: You’re always trying to find any sort of marginal reason that a player may improve. My strategic principles are to look at TOG and PPM in both formats and isolate potential scoring improvements and role changes. Next, I look at team balances and where scoring improvements might come from. For example, for the last five years Adelaide have never had a player spend more than 80% TOG. This means with their PPM it does limit their upside, so players like Rory Sloane and Jackson Hately will increase in overall value, but slower than we might hope. Fremantle are the same.
In a positive way there’s value in Hawthorn or Adelaide’s defence if Rory Laird, for example, plays midfield time. I try look at how a team plays and how this affects scoring. For example, Sydney don’t have a third midfielder who scores. The reason is Sydney’s half-back flankers join the midfield chain and run the ball out, mostly Jake Lloyd. Before you buy a breakout in Sydney’s midfield, you need to see a change in the way they play.
The opposite is true for Geelong and Hawthorn where their wingers and mids get back and start their attacking chains. They’ve multiple mids who score over 90. This means if there’s injuries and role changes, like Guthrie in 2020, then scoring will follow because they’re fitting a team structure.
This means I’ve a few questions about each team’s structure in pre-season. As an aside, game structure is risk mitigation so I avoid players who’ve missed a bulk of pre-season, especially mids like Adams or Tom Mitchell.
HB: You play both AFL Fantasy and SuperCoach. What are the key differences for you?
Trent: The price differentials between Fantasy and SuperCoach mean Fantasy is more conservative and guns and rookies is generally the play. In Fantasy, value is not merely maxed out for one particular year. So in 2021 you could start a forward line in SuperCoach that is completely different from Fantasy purely based on their starting price. Players like Jack Ziebell, Joe Daniher and Jarman Impey are no value in Fantasy, but have value in SuperCoach.
In Fantasy, there’s increasingly limited value in mid-pricers. If an average rookie can score 55, your mid-pricer at $400k needs to score 80 to actually make up the price differential. Generally speaking, it’s just the less risky move in Fantasy to go guns and rookies. This may be a year where it may not work because of the amount of rookies on ground but until proven otherwise I’ll go guns and rookies.
HB: Gold, good luck this year!