Keys to NRL Fantasy Success in 2014

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Make sure you check out our latest NRL Fantasy Podcast before the NRL season begins, also, read our pre-Round 1 Fantasy run down of the players and rookies to select and avoid in your team.

Nothing quite triggers the anticipation of a new season of Rugby League like the launch of the NRL Fantasy competition. Increasing your investment in your favorite sport just that little bit, the rivalry, knowledge and passion that has become part of one of Australia’s greatest past-times is once again about to infect the nation.

No matter how long you’ve played or how much you think you know about the great game of Rugby League, each season throws up new players, tactics and scenarios that go into selecting your ‘Dream Team’.

In the spirit of learning from previous seasons, this article has a few additions from last year’s equivalent. Having endured my worst season on record, finishing 7754th overall, we’re going back to basics and stressing that gut instinct is often a more reliable avenue to over-thinking decisions.

The 12 Rules to success discussed here aren’t a guaranteed ticket to victory but they are certainly considerations that you must execute to perfection in order to have bragging rights over your mates, something that as Australians, we all crave.

Rule 1 – Players Change

Whether it is because of a new coach, new role, new position, personnel additions to a side or the departure of teammates, NRL scenarios change not only every season, but every week. Because of this, it is important not to prematurely categorize players before the complexities of off-season adjustments have been trialed in pre-season.

From the reformation of the Dragons and its potential impact on Trent Merrin to Ben Barba’s move to Brisbane, situations present themselves that demand the reconsideration of a player’s NRL Dream Team potential. Throughout the pre-season, Blindside Sport will be publishing analysis on these new scenarios which will identify the over-priced and the bargain selections available in 2014.

Throughout the season, the emergence of new talent, form slumps, injuries, suspensions, byes and representative duties also impact the fabric of the league. Blindside will be there to guide you through even the toughest of times this year.

Rule 2 – Rookies Win Titles

Identification of the rookies who will excel in a particular season may be difficult, but if you succeed in this, you’re well on your way to Dream Team mastery. As experienced players will know, the rookie benefit is two-fold. Firstly, it allows you to buy cheap players who will still score valuable points without consuming a large chunk of your salary cap. Secondly, and more importantly, their potential price increases will facilitate the purchase of elite players later in the season.

The most typical method of exploiting this is by selling two rookies who have reached their price ceilings, downgrading one to an unfulfilled rookie and upgrading the other to a proven premium. As maintaining a full roster of scoring players is important, you’ll need to stay up to date with which rookies are making their debuts mid-season.

Rule 3 – Go to Extremes

The most common mistake made by NRL Dream Team enthusiasts, experienced or otherwise, is the incorporation of average players into their initial line-up for the season. Your essential aim for the year is to get the best 21 players in the league into your line-up as quickly as possible. In order to do so, you need two things; (1) the great players themselves and (2) a way of making money so that your ‘Dream Team’ becomes an affordable reality.

In your initial side, select as many players as possible that you think will finish the season amongst the top 5 in their position. Obviously you will struggle to combine more that 10 of these players due to salary cap limitations and as such, will need a way to expand your salary cap over the course of the season.

Whilst you may feel more comfortable with Braith Anasta than Ben Hampton, the reality is certain proven and established players aren’t high-scoring enough to be permanent staples in your side and aren’t cheap enough to warrant selection as a ‘cash cow’. As such, it is best to avoid them at all costs!

Rule 4 – Consider Your Trades

In previous seasons seasons, seemingly flawless teams in prime positions for League supremacy and even Overall contention come hurdling back to earth once they run out of trades. There were four reasons NRL Dream Team coaches run out of trades: (1) the compulsion to trade because of impatience waiting for the next round, (2) poor initial team selection, (3) lack of preparation for bye weeks and (4) sideways trading.

In 2014, NRL Dream Team has followed in the footsteps of its AFL counterpart and now allows 2 trades per week for every week of the season. A massive benefit for novice players but a curse for the more experienced coaches, this change opens the competition right up as your pre-season research can quickly become irrelevant with all coaches now having the ability to change their entire starting team within just 6 weeks of the season beginning!

As such, there are two important considerations. Firstly, the quest for unique players (Rule 9) becomes increasingly important as teams will naturally become more similar with increased trades. Secondly, don’t sell your cash cows early simply because you have a spare trade. Think George Burgess and the production you would have missed out on if you sold him early in the season. Finally, don’t trade for the sake of trading. Selling Cameron Smith for Robbie Farah because one has a better match-up for the week is a terrible idea. Always have your sights set on improving your team for the duration of the season. Two trades per week still isn’t a lot when you’re trying to reform an entire squad.

Rule 5 – Don’t Jump at Shadows

As the old saying goes, ‘it isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon’. In a similar vein to the need to preserve trades, you must remember that every player in your side was selected for a reason. If you identified potential in a particular player, know that their ability will generally be realized eventually. Remember that there are always thousands of other coaches in your position and that should you retain the player you are disappointed in, you will not only gain a trade advantage but you will have a player who becomes increasingly unique as other coaches offload them.

Tip #1: Don’t be deterred by your elite players losing value. Yes, it will make them more affordable for other coaches but as long as you intend to keep them all season, whether Paul Gallen is worth $423,200 or $250,000 is completely irrelevant.

Tip #2: Do not sell a player until you have exploited their entire price growth potential.

Tip #3: Not every player will score over 50 points every week. It is important to keep your expectations realistic.

Rule 6 – Plan for Bye Rounds

The time of the year that separates the boys from the men. As we were discussing before, the preservation of trades is key, meaning that the fewer you have to use to maintain a squad of 17 players, the better position you will be in to succeed.

Try to limit your bye exposure to one player in each position. If you have Sonny-Bill Williams (Round 15 bye), don’t have Sam Burgess (Round 15) and Liam Fulton (Round 15) in your side as well. The one exception to this is if you’re just going for League glory, in which case you yourself will have a bye in the affected rounds.

Make sure you don’t forget about State of Origin either. In Rounds 11, 14 and 17, your star players will be out of action in preparation for either New South Wales or Queensland. Another reason to try and make your side unique, this unavoidable factor makes players like Chris Sandow and Liam Fulton attractive selection prospects as they are unlikely to be selected despite being class acts. Foreign players like Sam Burgess (England), Sam Tomkins (England) and Simon Mannering (New Zealand) also have upside due to Origin ineligibility.

Rule 7 – Stay Updated

The major change to NRL Dream Team this season is that you can adjust your line-ups right up until kick-off in a player’s particular fixture. In previous years, if Brett Stewart was playing on Monday night against the Sharks and he was under an injury cloud, you would have to make a final call on him before ‘lockout’ on Friday night. Now, Stewart would be interchangeable until Monday night, assuming you had someone like Beau Ryan (Sharks) who hadn’t played who you could switch into your line-up.

There is no better feeling than having a full side of 17 players when you know other players are short due to late withdrawals. In 2012, you have the opportunity to experience that feeling more often than ever before if you stay updated throughout the week as always, but also over the weekend.

This also applies to identifying new prospects to trade into your team or declining stock that you should offload. As we mentioned in the first rule, changing scenarios are key to the changing potential of a player. Whilst injury news won’t necessarily give you all of the answers, Blindside will fill in the gaps for you along the way, laying down the various consequences of injuries, suspensions, form slumps and everything else that makes an NRL season so thrilling and unpredictable every year.

Rule 8 – Know the System

The only way to ensure your decision-making is as flawless as possible throughout the 2014 NRL Dream Team season is to know all of the finer details of the competition.

A major change to the scoring system prior to the 2012 season elevated the benefits of several attack-oriented statistics, meaning that workhorse forwards were no longer the only fantasy elites. With the tactic of selecting eligible forwards in your centres and halves a tactic of the past, players like Michael Jennings, Brett Stewart and Josh Dugan, impact players who don’t make many tackles, have become incredibly viable options. They won’t possess the consistency of Corey Parker but their scoring ceiling is incredibly high, making them brilliant selections.

Dual-position eligibility is also key. Bring able to interchange Paul Gallen (FRF/2RF) with Sam Burgess throughtout the season is incredibly useful for countering the impact of bye weeks. We suggest that if you have Gallen in the Front-Row, you look to have a rookie Second-Rower with Front-Row eligibility. This means that when it comes time to upgrade your improved rookie, you have the choice of upgrading in either position. The more interchangeable players you have, the greater your chances of dealing with byes for efficiently and the more options you will have throughout the season.

This season, in arguably the biggest change, price changes will occur after just 1 round! Instead of the 3-round rolling average that has been implemented in recent years, more recent games will be weighted more heavily, giving rise to what is a game-changer. Rookies will mature earlier, premiums will fall earlier. Teams will develop a lot faster in 2014 than in previous seasons, so beware, as your initial selections bear greater significance than they did in 2013.

In addition to this, a 5-round rolling average will now be used to calculate price changes. This differs from the 3-round system used previously. In essence, if a player scores exceptionally poorly in Round 6, instead of that score holding no significance from Round 10 onwards, it is now a contributing factor to price changes all the way through until Round 12.

Rule 9 – Be Unique

Unless you can predict the future, your Dream Team will have flaws in it. It is as unavoidable as Albert Kelly errors, Ben Barba brilliance, Queensland State of Origin victory and Manly being the most hated team in the NRL. This reality means that each and every week, others will score more points than you and whether you are seeking League glory or Overall prizes, you must learn how to make the 2nd half of your Dream Team season the strongest.

Many believe that if your team at the start of the season is average, your title race is over. They are wrong. The only reason it would be over is if you panic and transform your side into a generic line-up. If you are 100 points off the overall lead with 3 rounds remaining, you won’t catch the leaders unless you have players that they don’t have. Seeing as you will likely have several players between you and ultimate Dream Team success, you’re going to need to purchase (and have faith in) players who others might not consider.

Select Ben Hampton and Ben Hunt instead of the more proven Cherry-Evans, take a punt on Jarryd Hayne over Josh Dugan or look at Lachlan Coote instead of Shaun Johnson. These alternative players aren’t poor players by any means. They are players who have the potential to be stars in their position but aren’t the ‘automatic’ selections that are effectively nullified by the fact that everyone has them. Cameron Smith, Corey Parker, Greg Inglis and of course Sonny-Bill Williams are all brilliant fantasy players and there is a reason they are so widely selected, but look to inject something different into your line-up, whether in the form of an undiscovered rookie or an under-rated elite player.

Rule 10 – Simplicity is Key

It may sound contradictory to present a series of rules alongside a request for simplicity, however quite often statistics and one-off performances prompt consideration of issues that shouldn’t even be on your radar. Last season, we sought to exploit Cameron Smith’s unfortunate conjunction of Origin selection and inconvenient byes by selecting Robbie Farah and Jake Friend instead of the Queensland hooker. Whilst the move worked in large part and both players had exceptional seasons, we essentially forfeited 60 points a week by attempting to be too clever and neglecting the best player in the competition.

If you feel a player is a good buy, generally, they will be. Don’t talk yourself out of making gut-decisions.

Rule 11 – Try Saves and Kicks Defused

Adjustments to the 2014 scoring system should signal the elevation of wingers and fullbacks to Dream Team elite! Inglis, Slater, Minichiello and Dugan will all receive incredible boosts by this alteration as for the first time in history, the increased risk of errors by the back three are offset by potential rewards.

Digging up the statistics on which players will benefit most from the scoring change may be difficult, but could prove a very worthwhile exploit.

Rule 12 – Enjoy!

At the end of the day, there is nothing but fun to be had from NRL Dream Team coaching. It will expand your knowledge of the game and its players and gives you a whole new appreciation for the sport of Rugby League. If you’re a Panthers fan and you want to select a side of 25 Penrith players, you can! That is one of the great things about this game. No consequences!

Look forward to facing off against you all come kick-off on March 7!

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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