The 2013 NRL Fantasy season is up and running, meaning you can pick your NRL Dream Team and All Stars Dream Team right now if you haven't already.
I'll run through some smart buys for the one-off All Stars game next week, but today I've got a guide to what your initial 25-man NRL Dream Team squad should look like.
If you're brand new to Dream Team I suggest you read my last article for a guide to how the game works and the new changes for 2013. Now it's time to talk tactics as you fine-tune your starting squad.
What makes a good 'Dream Team player'
There are a lot of ways your players score points in Dream Team (see the bottom of this article for the full rundown). But in practice, the key scoring factors to keep in mind are tackles, tackle breaks, run metres, kick metres, tries and goals.
The scoring system rewards both attacking players and defensive players, but some positions still generally score better than others.
The kinds of players who generally do very well in Dream Team, in order, are:
1) Hard-working forwards, usually second-rowers or hookers, who play close to 80 minutes each week and make a lot of tackles. (eg. Cameron Smith, Corey Parker, Paul Gallen, Shaun Fensom, Robbie Farah)
2) Dominant halves who do the bulk of their team's kicking in general play, and produce a lot of try assists (eg. Cooper Cronk, Benji Marshall, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans, Todd Carney)
3) Attacking fullbacks who break tackles, make a lot of run metres, score and set up tries (eg. Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis, Ben Barba, Josh Dugan, Matt Bowen)
4) Props who both work hard in defence and can bust tackles in attack (eg. James Tamou, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Trent Merrin, Andrew Fifita)
5) Goalkickers (eg. Cameron Smith, Benji Marshall, Johnathan Thurston)
Try to build your squad around some key players in these positions.
Then there are the wildcards – the attacking outside backs who can post a monster score one week, and a mediocre score the next. This covers centres and wingers, who aren't the most reliable scorers but can be great to have when they score a hat-trick or make a ton of tackle breaks. I'd look to get some cheap players in these positions early on, and strengthen your squad elsewhere.
The smart Dream Team gameplan: keepers + cash cows
When you pick your initial squad, you should already be thinking about your trading strategy for the season.
Remember, you get 34 trades for the year. That's a lot of room to move. It means you can replace your entire 25-man squad through the course of the season, and replace nine of your players twice.
So what's the best way to use those trades? And how should that affect your starting squad?
Some players you won't want to trade out at all. They're the big guns you pick at the start of the season, who you'll hold onto unless injury or suspension strikes (or maybe if they go missing on Origin duty).
But the rest of your squad should be players you do plan to trade out at some stage. They're the cash cows who you will snap up with the aim of making you money and freeing up more space in the salary cap. Player prices will start moving up or down after they've played three NRL matches, so by recruiting undervalued players at the start of the year you can quickly build a war chest that you can spend on a team of stars.
When picking your initial squad, try to get a balance between long-term keepers and shorter-term cash cows. The $5.8 million salary cap will force your hand a little here (you'll have to buy some cheap players if you want to fit in some stars as well) but try to make sure the cheap players you buy will actually make you money.
Some players are cheap because they had an injury-affected season in 2012, and could go up in value if they can stay fit and get back to their usual standards (eg. Kurt Gidley, Terry Campese, Tariq Sims). Others are expected to get more game time this season, or are likely to move into a higher-scoring Dream Team position (eg. Michael Gordon if he gets the Sharks' fullback role). Others are rookies who haven't had a taste of the NRL yet. All these players could make you money in 2013.
But some players are cheap because they simply don't score well in Dream Team. These are obviously players to avoid. (You can get a full rundown on a player's scoring history if you buy or trial Dream Team Assistant Coach.)
Every player you recruit should be contributing something to your squad – points, money, or depth. Preferably, your entire squad will consist of either keepers or money-makers. If you've bought a player simply because he's cheap, try to replace him with someone who is cheap and likely to actually get some game time.
So what's the formula? This will differ for everyone, but I recommend getting four or five definite keepers at the start of the season, plus a group of undervalued but decent scorers to fill out your starting 17, and then as many bargain cash cows as you can find. The key is to try to only recruit players who will get game time (and that probably means players who are named to play in Round 1).
Which rookies should you be keeping an eye on? I'll have a rundown of some of the most talked-about young guns in a couple of weeks.
Next week: a look at the contenders for your All Stars Dream Team.
NRL Dream Team point scoring (unchanged from 2012)
Try: 8 points
Goal: 2 points
Field goal: 5 points
Try assist: 5 points
Line break: 4 points
Line break assist: 2 points
Tackle: 1 point
One-on-one tackle: 1 (extra) point
Tackle break: 3 points
Offload: 2 points
40/20 kick: 4 points
Run metres gained: 1 point for every 10 metres
Kick metres: 1 point for every 20 metres
Missed tackle: -2 points
Error: -3 points
Penalty conceded: -2 points
Sin-bin: -5 points
Sign up now for NRL Dream Team