The NRL Fantasy Front – Round 1

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With the NRL Dream Team season just hours away, Blindside Sport publishes it’s first of what will become weekly fantasy articles, dictating what we believe to be the best players and strategies for you to achieve Dream Team success.

As of next week, each of our recommendations will be accompanied by detailed statistics and reasoning, however with the competition just hours away, we feel the need to get as much across to you as possible in this article! If you have any questions or would like any further reasoning or statistics, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below, or in our NRL Dream Team Forum.

Don’t forget to listen to the inaugural NRL Fantasy Podcast before submitting your final team for the 2014 Dream Team competition!

Also, check out Blindside Sport’s ‘Keys to NRL Fantasy Success‘ article, published earlier this offseason.

Strategies for 2014

There are several common trends that have emerged over the hours we’ve spent trying to decipher the NRL Fantasy this off-season. After having tried countless combinations, we’ve settled on several that we feel many coaches will opt to pursue. Some are brilliant and are being pursued by Blindside Sport’s experts, however some will leave your team either incredibly vulnerable to underwhelming performance, or will necessitate you missing out on some of this season’s most promising ‘cash cows’.

Rookie Halves | With players like Holdsworth, Hunt, Brooks, Dobson and Witt all named to start in Round 1, it has been proposed that coaches may run with an entirely rookie-priced halves line. Given the draws of Shaun Johnson, Johnathan Thurston and the sheer class of Daly Cherry-Evans however, we recommend you go with no more than 3, yet no fewer than 2 of these under-priced players.

Stacked Front Row | Fifita, Gallen, Graham, Burgess, Burgess and Lawrence have all spent some time in my prop-rotation this off-season given that all represent either guaranteed scoring or tremendous value. With limited rookie options available, 2-3 of the above (or players in a similar price range) appear almost a non-negotiable necessity.

Peats at Hooker | A guaranteed starting hooker who can allow a re-distribution of funds throughout your team, Nathan Peats’ dual-position eligibility makes him an attractive selection to partner wither Farah or Smith this season. Given the likely possibility of Luke and McCullough increasing their average this season, and the better value on offer at hooker than at Second Row for example, we advise against skimping on your bench hooker.

Fullback-Stacked | As discussed in this week’s NRL Fantasy Podcast, fullbacks are primed for a huge year in Dream Team. Rule changes, scoring changes and tremendous value all play a part, meaning that teams can easily find five elite players to fit into their side – Inglis, Hayne, Barba, Tomkins, Milford, Tedesco and Morgan are all possibilities. Whilst selecting 5 may be excessive, the dearth of legitimate rookie options at the back mean that 4 of the above is probably ideal.

Skimp on Centres | A shortage of attractive options at centre and the likelihood of guaranteed performers of the past in Mannering and Lyon somewhat declining means that many coaches will opt to select two centres for a combined $400,000 or so. Hopoate/Gagai and Walker/Wighton will be arguably the most popular, however Adam Quinlan will also rise in popularity having been named at fullback for the Dragons. Keep in mind, Quinlan played there twice last season for an average of just 12 points per game.

3 Premium, 1 Mid-Priced, 2 Rookies Second Row | The perfect balance given the players available. Whilst some will opt to stack up on the mid-priced options available in Bukuya, Taumololo and Glenn Stewart, the risk associated with passing on elite-priced players in typically the most reliable position is too great.

Target and Avoid

Each week, we’ll break down the performances and trends necessary to predict and recommend the most promising Fantasy talent. In the lead up to the season however, we’ll select a few players from each team to either recommend or warn you away from.

Sydney Roosters | Jared Waerea-Hargreaves looks to be in for a monstrous year for the Roosters. His byes and Origin ineligibility make him the perfect compliment to Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita also. Dylan Napa is the rookie to watch out for following his selection ahead of fellow cheapie Remi Casty. Jake Friend is another tremendous option given his byes and will be a unique selection amongst hookers. All three players were excellent against Wigan in the World Club Challenge.

Less can be said for Sonny Bill-Williams, who despite his guaranteed popularity amongst coaches, looked woeful in the season warm-up. We’re going out on a limb and recommending against his selection after coach Robinson pushed his channel of operation closer to the centres, therefore adjusting his role in the latter half of 2013 to one less fantasy-conducive.

South Sydney Rabbitohs | Our immediate preference is to select George Burgess ahead of his brother Sam. As a starter last season, George averaged 63 points per contest, however is priced at just 48. Dylan Walker is another appealing option given his shift into the halves, whilst John Sutton’s move to the back-row appears likely to have a detrimental effect given the Rabbitohs’ bench depth.

Greg Inglis remains a valid option as always, whilst Isaac Luke’s stock has risen marginally with the departure of Nathan Peats and back-up hooker Apisai Koroisau not being named. Given Luke averaged almost 80 minutes last season however, this will probably have a limited impact.

Melbourne Storm | Ben Hampton’s replacement of Widdop makes him a viable option, however there a plenty of more appealing rookies on the market. The Storm back-row presents no great value, whilst Cooper Cronk’s Round 1 absence and guaranteed Origin selection renders him a peripheral consideration to begin the season. Young Tonumaipea is a selectable rookie at the back given lack of depth in the position and injuries almost guaranteeing him a 4-6 week run in First Grade.

Cameron Smith remains appealing as ever, especially considering that his Origin-duty falls on weeks he’d have a bye regardless.

Manly Sea-Eagles | General consensus suggests Jamie Lyon is in for a decline this season and we aren’t willing to argue against what seems a logical suggestion. Brenton Lawrence emerges as the primary beneficiary of Manly’s front-row exodus in the off-season, as does rookie Josh Starling.

Daly Cherry-Evans is a near must-have in the halves whilst Kieran Foran remains in a role completely unsuited to fantasy production. Glenn Stewart represents value in the second row following an injury-plagued 2013.

Cronulla Sharks | Andrew Fifita’s price will scare many away, however is a guaranteed scorer. Paul Gallen represents even better value after injuries hindered his output in the middle-part of 2013, however Wade Graham appears the logical beneficiary of Cronulla’s injury-ravaged second row.

Daniel Holdsworth is set for a significant stint in the halves in the absence of Jeff Robson. Blake Ayshford is a unique yet unlikely gamble in the centres whilst Sam Tagataese is a near identical prospect up front.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs | Sam Perrett will replace Ben Barba at fullback to begin the season, however shouldn’t be on your fantasy radar. Despite an impressive preseason, Moses Mybe will not get the opportunities coaches are hoping for and looks favourite to become the ‘Josh Drinkwater of 2014’. James Graham emerges as Des Hassler’s best Dream Team prospect, whilst Aiden Tolman is a safe yet less impressive version of his fellow polar-bear-resembling front rower. Tony Williams remains on a ‘don’t go there’ list following his horrific 2013.

Newcastle Knights | Injury to Jarrod Mullen paves the way for Michael Dobson to start in Newcastle, making the rookie-priced half a tempting prospect. Fellow cheapie Adam Clydesdale isn’t as attractive as many think given the value available at hooker this season. Dane Gagai has been widely selected, however he is likely to disappoint given that his mooted move to fullback didn’t eventuate.

North Queensland Cowboys | A beneficial draw to begin the season places several Cowboys on our watch-list. Johnathan Thurston is under-selected amongst coaches with a chance for overall glory this season and therefore emerges as an interesting prospect. Jason Taumololo, Tariq Sims, Michael Morgan and Kyle Feldt emerge as other options, however Taumololo and Morgan are the most appealing given pre-season form and the increased role they’re likely to play this season.

Penrith Panthers | Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward should be avoided at all costs. Josh Mansour has appealed to many but with the depth at fullback available across the NRL, we struggle to justify selecting a winger, even one as prominent as he.

Elijah Taylor appears the likely 80-minute workhorse in the Panther pack, however Kingston and Segeyaro remain unviable with both likely to remain prominent throughout the season. Adam Docker also emerges as a potential bargain having been named at lock for Round 1.

Brisbane Broncos | Ben Hunt will be widely-owned, and rightly so. After initial scepticism and poor trial form deterred us, Brisbane’s lack of alternatives in the kicking game and Hunt’s solid defence makes him an appealing buy. Corey Parker’s move the front-row will not be to the detriment of his scoring potential, with the change likely to affect nothing but the number on his back.

Ben Barba, whilst a risky selection given Brisbane’s ‘unknown’ nature this season, will attack in the halves and defend at fullback, a recipe for fantasy gold. Josh Hoffman remains a terrible option whilst Brisbane’s back row is also too stacked to recommend an individual with any confidence.

Jake Granville’s omission paves the way for Andrew McCullough to become an 80-minute, Smith and Farah-esque player, however the possibility to Hunt, Glenn or maybe even Hoffman (no one knows what is happening in Brisbane) allowing him to have a 15 minute rest each game remains.

Canberra Raiders | Jack Wighton’s move to the halves grants him tremendous value, whilst Terry Campese remains too injury-prone to rely upon. Aside from Shaun Fensom, we see little reason to consider a Raiders forward, however down back, the presence of Milford and Croker provide plenty of reason for optimism. We’re particularly excited by the latter given his prolific end to 2013.

A tough draw to begin 2014 leaves Fensom, as a defensively-minded player, as the safest option.

St George Dragons | Trent Merrin is the Dragons’ lone claim to fantasy reliability, however there are plenty of risky options available to brave coaches this season. Michael Witt as starting halfback easily usurps Gareth Widdop in terms of most-selectable half, whilst Ben Creagh’s likely stint in the front row is likely to see him rise in price early in the season. As mentioned above, Quinlan is appealing, yet likely to disappoint, as are most of the Dragons named at centre.

Wests Tigers | Robbie Farah remains an elite option up front, however Origin players from the Tigers will miss a total of 5 games through the middle of the season given an inconvenient bye schedule. Liam Fulton emerges as a tremendous option given the likelihood of Wests doing a lot of defending in 2014.

Luke Brooks is a dear but promising rookie, whilst James Tedesco appears to be in for a promising season after a knee reconstruction in 2011. Aaron Woods will benefit from a lack of depth on the bench, as will Corey Paterson and James Gavet.

Gold Coast Titans | A deep forward pack means that value is difficult to determine at Gold Coast. Ryan James has lost some appeal leading into the season, whilst Nate Myles has emerged as the most likely elite forward. Dave Taylor is also poised for an increase in scoring this season after an average 2013.

Aiden Sezer remains a popular selection in the halves, however we feel that there is significantly better value available. Brad Tighe is another widely-selected player we feel won’t live up to the hype. Meanwhile, Beau Falloon’s fitness means that Paul Carter is likely no longer with selection in your initial squad.

New Zealand Warriors | A favourable start to the season sees New Zealand’s attacking players become more attractive than their workhorses in Friend, Mannering and Bukuya. Bukuya’s price is so tempting however that many coaches will rightly jump at the opportunity of securing his services. Sam Tomkins, Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend will all be widely-selected for good reason, however all three enter the season with some risk attacked to their scoring consistency.

John Palavi, Carlos Tuimavave, Suaia Matagi and Sione Louisi are all appealing rookie options.

Parramatta Eels | Jarryd Hayne enters 2014 as thoroughly under-priced, as does Willie Tonga. Hopoate is similarly appealing, however will most likely be less reliable than many predict, despite a promising preseason. Corey Norman could provide teams with a point of difference, whilst Nathan Peats will do the opposite given he is likely to be the most-selected player in the competition.

Manu Mau is amongst the Parramatta rookies given a chance at the start of the season, however his job security is highly questionable.

Rookie Watch

Each week, we’ll suggest some rookie-priced players you might consider targeting, and some players formerly in that price-range that you might look to offload. This week however, we’ll offer a broad sweep of the players under $200,000 you should consider including in your team.

Players in italics are those we consider to have questionable/short-term job security.

Hookers | Josh McCrone, Adam Clydesdale, Paul Carter 

Front Row | Sam Tagataese, Martin Taupau, Suaia Matagi, Luke Burgess, Dylan Napa, Dunamis Lui, James Gavet, Jarrod Wallace, Shannon Boyd, Josh Starling

Second Row | Ben Smith, Adam Docker, Sam Tagataese, Bodene Thompson, Braith Anasta, Joe Picker, Dunamis Lui, James Gavet, Sione Louisi, Cory Paterson, John Palavi, James Hasson, Paul Carter, Manu Mau

Halves | Josh McCrone, Luke Kelly, Peter Wallace, Luke Brooks, Ben Hunt, Braith Anasta, Adam Quinlan, Carlos Tuimavave, Michael Dobson, Daniel Holdsworth, Michael Witt 

Centres | Dane Gagai, Will Hopoate, Beau Champion, Jack Reed, Jonathan Wright, Jack Wighton, Blake Ayshford, Brad Tighe, Chris Lawrence, Dane Nielsen, Adam Quinlan, Gerard Beale, Keith Leiluia, Dale Copley, Matthew Allwood

Fullbacks | Sam Perrett, Will Hopoate, Beau Ryan, Jonathan Wright, Jack Wighton, Mahe Fonua, Glen Fisiiahi, Brad Tighe, Vai Toutai, Semi Radradra, Lote Tuqiri, Cheyse Blair, Dylan Farrell, Gerard Beale, Lachlan Maranta, Young Tonumaipea, Dale Copley, Michael Witt

‘Pearce’s Pride’

My very own fantasy team is my pride and joy. In the interest of competition, I will keep the exact composition of my side undisclosed until next week, however I’ve decided to compile a short summery of a one player in every position that I highly recommend owning (I currently own most of them) and why.

Cameron Smith | It goes without saying. Smith is the most consistent and reliable player in the comptition. Not only that, but this year, his origin selection is effectively irrelevant given his favourable bye schedule. Cooper Cronk’s absence in Round 1 can only benefit his score given the increased likelihood of kicking in general play.

Josh Starling | There are 160 minutes on offer in an NRL team’s front row every match. At most, Brenton Lawrence may account for 65 this year, leaving 95 minutes per fixture to an untried and untested combination of rookies. Whilst Jason King will hopefully return to fitness at some point, Starling has been given the first opportunity to start alongside Lawrence.

Liam Fulton | Showing my hand a little here. Fulton will be a relatively unique selection in 2014 given his somewhat innocuous price, however after finishing last season with a prolific month, we’re optimistic of his potential in 2014. A leader and defensive workhorse with the potential, skill and speed to be damaging in attack, Wests will lean heavily on their 80-minute back-rower for production.

Daly Cherry-Evans | Rumours around Jamie Lyon’s fitness mean that Cherry-Evans could even take over kicking duties in Round 1. Considering he scores more points against strong opposition given the grind associated with the battle for field position, his tough draw to begin the season should be considered a positive.

Willie Tonga | The Parramatta centre has shown himself to be a very respectable fantasy player in the past, however injury and personal circumstances have seen him fall to a rookie price. A must-have on the bench, however some might even risk starting him in favour of spending more money elsewhere.

Ben Barba | Sam Tomkins would be the obvious selection, however the possibility of Barba attacking in the line, yet still earning the metres and tackle-breaks associated with defending at fullback is near irresistible. A risky selection, but one that seems as likely as any to pay off for under $300,000.

Ask the Team

Don’t forget that you can ask questions and offer advise to fellow forum members through on our NRL Dream Team threads.

Also, don’t forget to listen to the inaugural episode of Roman Barbera and Daniel Boss’ NRL Fantasy Podcast.

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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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