Tom ‘Libba’ Liberatore is a strange cat with a somewhat chequered career due to injury and off field shenanigans: two ACLs, a drug strike against him, ‘Simpsons’ and chocolate bar tattoos, and wild haircuts…???
Libba debuted in 2011 playing 16 games at a very respectable 74.9 average. You’ll see from this image taken from the Footywire website that his early career progression showed great ‘premo’ promise before being derailed in 2015 with his first ACL injury in the first quarter of the first pre-season game of 2015.
He missed all of 2015, but returned to be a part of that fabled Bulldog premiership in 2016. However, in both 2016 and 2017 he failed to regain his 105+ average. Worse was to come in 2018.
In the first quarter of Round 1 2018 against GWS, Libba did another ACL, this time it was the other knee. His season finished there and then on 13 SC points. 2018 was a year to forget for Libba and the Dogs, and added to this was regular speculation that Tom had played his last game for the Bulldogs; or perhaps his last game ever.
So all doom and gloom, right. Well not quite. Libba signed a 1 year extension to his contract; started training early, got more unique tattoos, and has been – to use the time worn phrase – ‘tearing up the training track’ in pre-season 2019.
In his first JLT game he was in and under at centre bounces, picking up 27 touches, 13 contested possessions and 111 Supercoach points.
At $300,400 Libba is priced to average 55 SC points. This makes him $40k cheaper than Anthony Miles and less than $100k more expensive than #1 draft pick Sam Walsh. You don’t need Libba to be hitting 100 SC every week for him to gain value.
He is ‘Best 22’ at the Bulldogs and has a history of averaging $105+ SC points. He isn’t reliant of accumulating disposals to score well either, because, like his old-man Tony, Tom is a tackling machine. He holds the VFL/AFL record of 19 tackles in one game against Melbourne (Ziebell & Jude Bolton also share this record).
He gives you some flexibility and like Zac Williams, Brodie Smith and Roberton from St Kilda, he’s an injury affected fallen ‘almost-premium’ player, so you are not relying on him to improve in performance to be relevant like a potential breakout candidate.
And you’d only want to start him. His price is a too high to be considered a down grade option later in the year. Also, he’s not really a keeper. As a ‘stepping-stone’ you’d probably look to upgrade him to someone at the end of the byes. This is a benefit in my option because you may be more tempted to hold onto a Miles or Brodie Smith (who won’t be top 10 in their positions) costing yourself points and ranking positions.
He’s not likely to get back to Premo levels this year coming back from his knee ‘reco’. However, he did manage to average 90 over 17 games in the season following his first reconstruction.
There is also the Luke ‘Magnets Bevo’ Beveridge factor at the bulldogs. The Bevo is renowned for playing players out of position for some perceived advantage. Libba has not avoided this in the past and has played forward, much to the detriment of his SC scoring.
Even if Bevo decides to play Libba mostly in his natural role like he did during the first JLT game, on the ball, there has been a lot of speculation as to how this affects the Bulldogs player around him. Surely it is more than co-incidence that Jack Macrae’s jump in SC seasonal average from 107 to 127 in 2018 was during the same time that Libba was out of the team.
In my opinion Libba is more likely to impact on other players like Dunkley and McLean over Macrae, but you never know.
2 ACL injuries in 4 years is ‘ugly’. I heard a statistic once that stated that if a player does an ACL, he has a 25% increased likelihood of doing another. Furthermore, history shows there are players who do their knees more than twice (Clay Smith, Alex Johnson, Dan Menzel, etc). There will be durability issues for Tom for the rest of his career. However, no one can predict such an injury, so it’s a dice roll with him as much as any other player.
The real ugly is evident in his 2017 season, Libba was actually dropped due to form after collecting only 8 possessions and 34 SC points against the Eagles; it took him 4 weeks to return to the seniors. After that he still posted games with low disposal numbers: 10 vs GWS in Round 21 and 13 vs NTH in Round 14 and SUNs Round 18. He also only kicked 7 goals for the whole season that year too, despite spending significant time forward. He kicked twice that in 2016.
Libba’s 2017 season record, plus his late 2018 one year contract extension signing suggests that footy isn’t necessarily that high a priority for him. As a Bulldogs man, I’d have preferred a 2 year extension to quell my unease. However, I can’t fault his preparation for this upcoming season. And JLT could put a lot of speculation to bed, when we see where he plays and how he impacts his teammates.
I’m currently 50/50 on starting Libba. Being $300.4k is a serious temptation for a player with a 100+ history. If you start Tom Liberatore and he averages 80 SC as he did in 2017 (his worst season since his debut) he should still make you serious coin.
What you do reckon community? He’s a cheap option that’s been overshadowed by other mid-pricers. Make sure you follow @seekersupacoach on Twitter too!