First things first, congratulations to 'Adam's awesomeos' for taking out the top prize in the inaugural Toyota All Stars Dream Team mini-game. Adam is $5000 richer after his six-man team of Josh Dugan, Greg Inglis, Benji Marshall, Luke Bailey, Aaron Payne and Luke Lewis got the job done on Saturday night.
The All Stars mini-game gave us a first look at the new scoring system in place for Toyota NRL Dream Team this year, but just as it's wise not to read too much into trial game form, it's not worth worrying too much about Dream Team scoring in that game. As I pointed out last week, there will be a few discrepancies between scoring in the All Stars game and a regular NRL season game.
While kick metres and tackle counts are likely to make halves and workhorse forwards the dominant players in Toyota NRL Dream Team this season, it wasn't quite the case on Saturday night – with kicking duties shared between half a dozen players and tackle counts lower than usual (only Indigenous All Stars forwards Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Sam Thaiday made more than 30 tackles).
What I'm saying is, don't worry too much if one or two of your favourite Dream Team players didn't score too highly in the All Stars game – the NRL season proper is a whole different beast.
Last week I took a look at 10 potential bargains who could prove to be good value as the Toyota NRL Dream Team season unfolds. Today I'll run through some of the candidates to become the real Dream Team cash cows: the rookies.
With all these rookies given the bargain-basement price of $77,100 at the start of the season, any genuine game time should see them make plenty of bonus salary cap cash for your team.
But will they get regular game time for their club this season? That's up to you. They're all a gamble on some level, but that's why they come so cheap.
Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs half)
Reynolds is expected to wear the No.7 jersey at Souths this year following the departure of Chris Sandow, with fellow rookie Ryan Carr appearing to be his only real challenger for the position. A Toyota Cup star in 2010 who missed last season through injury, Reynolds is expected to take a keep-it-simple mentality into the top grade and leave much of the playmaking duties to experienced pivot John Sutton. Still, a solid kicking game and the ability to kick goals should see Reynolds become one of the bargains of the season if he keeps his place at the Bunnies.
Matt McIlwrick (Raiders hooker)
McIlwrick's a talented New Zealand-born young gun who is in the running for Canberra's starting hooker position that was shared between Alan Tongue and Glen Buttriss last season. The presence of Buttriss, Travis Waddell and new signing Shaun Berrigan could hurt his chances though. Still, Raiders recruitment manager David Hamilton has predicted McIlwrick will get some NRL game time this year. "He will probably come off the bench and be pretty explosive," Hamilton told Rugby League Week.
Dale Finucane (Bulldogs second-row forward/front-row forward)
Tough and reliable, Finucane hasn't missed a game for the Bulldogs' Toyota Cup side for the past two years, making 30 tackles and 150 metres a game last season in the second row or at prop. The 20-year-old has been named in the Toyota Cup Team of the Year twice and was last season's NYC Player of the Year for the Bulldogs. Keep an eye out for him on the 'Dogs bench sometime this season.
Konrad Hurrell (Warriors centre/winger-fullback)
A Toyota Cup sensation last season after switching codes from rugby union to league, the Tongan-born Hurrell led the under-20s competition for line breaks, tackle breaks and metres per game for the all-conquering Junior Warriors. With Joel Moon and Shaun Berrigan having left the club, the speedy youngster is a genuine chance to pip the talented but erratic Krisnan Inu to one of the Warriors' centre spots, assuming Lewis Brown switches back to his preferred position in the second row.
Josh Jackson (Bulldogs second-rower)
Another impressive young Bulldogs forward, Jackson is a Junior Kangaroo who proved both a good worker and a dangerous ball-runner in the Toyota Cup last season. Made 82 tackle busts and 33 offloads during the year, while also averaging 123 run metres and 29 tackles a game.
Shannon Boyd (Raiders front-row forward)
A giant teenage prop, who stands at 193cm and 123kg, it's no real surprise that Boyd has been called up to Canberra's first-grade squad a year early. Averaged 16 tackles and more than 100 run metres a game for the Raiders' Toyota Cup side last season.
Aidan Sezer (Titans half)
Five-eighth was one of many problem areas for the Gold Coast Titans last season, with Preston Campbell, William Zillman, Beau Henry, Luke Capewell and even a plucked-from-retirement Mat Rogers filling the No.6 jersey at some stage in the season. But in 21-year-old Sezer, the Titans may have finally found their answer. The former Bulldog has already been tipped for higher honours – being selected for Ricky Stuart's 51-man Emerging Blues squad a year ago – and made the NYC Team of the Year in 2010. No guarantee of a first-team place, but he's in the running.
Jordan McLean (Storm front-rower)
A 196cm, 111kg prop, McLean is one of 11 under-20s stars now promoted to Melbourne's 25-man first grade squad, alongside fellow big boppers Kenneath Bromwich and Tohu Harris. The Storm's relative lack of depth up front means McLean is a decent chance of getting some game time in the pack this season, particularly if injuries strike, and he should improve quickly under Craig Bellamy.
Tautau Moga (Roosters centre)
A talented teenage centre who signed a new deal in December keeping him in Roosters colours until 2014, Moga has won plenty of awards in the junior ranks and could have played his NRL debut last season if not for a rule preventing players under 18 from playing first grade. He has size (he stands at 193cm and 108kg), speed and footwork, and the Chooks obviously think he has massive potential. Described as being "an absolute standout in the Toyota Cup" by Roosters coach Brian Smith, don't be surprised if the young gun steps up a grade this year.
Omar Slaimankhel (Warriors winger-fullback)
Last year's Toyota Cup fullback of the year and the competition's top tryscorer, Pakistan-born speedster Slaimankhel found the try-line 26 times in 23 games for the Warriors last season, and is more than capable of pulling off a try-saving tackle as well. In Kevin Locke the Warriors already have a pretty handy fullback in the top grade, but Slaimankhel could be a roughie for an NRL debut if injuries hit the grand finalists this season.
Of course there are plenty of other rookies out there, as well as players with one or two NRL games to their name who are priced at less than $100,000. Happy hunting...