There comes a time in every Dream Team coach's season when he or she either drops out of contention for their league title or runs out of trades. Even competition winners tend to run out of trades at some stage.
When that time comes, a coach can either try to forget about the season and just look ahead to next year, or they can look back at the lessons of the past campaign and learn from them. That's what I've done this week.
The Scouts have had a pretty successful season (I'm running 97th overall and topped the table in 81 per cent of the 4779 head-to-head leagues I'm in) but it's still clear I've still made a few mistakes.
For anyone interested, I've included a complete list of my 2013 trades at the bottom of this article (this should also satisfy those guys who have been asking whether the Scouts get unlimited trades – believe me, I wouldn't still have an injured Josh Dugan in my squad if I had unlimited trades).
Here are seven Dream Team lessons I've learned by looking back on the season so far. Think of them as some very early tips for 2014.
1) Don't get too attached to your starting 25
That squad you'll spend weeks fine-tuning at the start of next year? Don't be surprised if it looks very different by the end of the season.
Of the squad I selected at the start of the season, only three are still in my team now – Cameron Smith, Aiden Sezer and – surprisingly enough – Chris McQueen. My initial 25-man squad included such Dream Team duds as Gerard Beale, Jacob Miller, David Klemmer, Nathan Smith, Drury Low and the incomparable Scott Moore. (At least I didn't gamble on non-playing rookies Michael Chee Kam and Josh Drinkwater like a lot of others did.) Your first stab at filling your squad with undervalued keepers and cash cows will be hit and miss, which is why you need to...
2) Get on the good cash cows early
Fortunately my starting team did include a few excellent cash cows (Albert Kelly, Jack Buchanan, Jacob Loko and Tohu Harris) but bringing in the likes of George Burgess and Jack Stockwell before their first price rises paid off handsomely. Even Vai Toutai, Tariq Sims and Benji Marshall all earned more than $85,000 in profit after being snapped up at their lowest price. You can't get every cash cow, but getting the right ones early will set up your season.
3) But don't give up on your starters too quickly
It's hugely tempting to trade big in the first few weeks of the season to avoid missing out on the best bargains. But it's also worth keeping the faith with some recruits.
Here's an example. One week into the 2013 season I traded Justin Horo for Ryan James. That trade looked smart on the face of it – both players had a similar price and James had doubled Horo's Round 1 score – but it cost me a little in the long run. James would go on to be a handy cash cow and earn my squad $88k in profits, but Horo – an 80-minute forward who was starting out in a new team – soon improved and eventually earned more than $120k in price rises. Holding on to Horo could have saved me a trade (which would have become invaluable down the track) as well as earning my squad a few extra bucks, proving that keeping the faith can be just as valuable as moving quickly in those early parts of the season.
4) Avoid fallen stars from previous years
Successful Dream Team players quickly become personal favourites. Tony 'T-Rex' Williams was a monster for Manly last season, hugely undervalued at the start of the year and available in both the back row and the centres. But this year, for whatever reason, he's failed to fire at the Bulldogs. Those who traded him in at some stage waiting for him to improve never got the payoff they were after.
The same goes for two recruits who did make the Scouts squad: Ben Barba and Dane Gagai. Both are excellent players, but neither really reached the heights they set in 2012 (although Gagai has contributed some handy late-season scores). The lesson: don't expect a player's scores to improve just because they scored well in the past.
5) Don't fall for the fake cash cows
When assessing whether a player is a genuine cash cow or just a cheap player who has fluked a good score, you've got to look at the player's stats breakdown (and, ideally, have watched a bit of him play). If a player scores big through base stats – areas in which he's likely to keep scoring well all year – then snap him up. If his points are due to one-off events (a couple of tries, an unusual amount of minutes, etc) then avoid.
My big examples from the year were one-time Panthers pivot Tom Humble, who fooled a few of us into taking the plunge with an early score of 53 boosted by a long-range try, and Broncos winger Jordan Kahu, who scored 43 the week before I bought him then failed to get near that score again all year. Both players made small profits but were hardly worth the trades. A mistake a lot of punters took was to expect massive things from Titans forward Mark Minichiello, who started his season with a bang with a one-try, two-line-break performance in Round 6, but unsurprisingly didn't match that attacking display for the rest of the season as his price eventually went backwards.
6) Keep your keepers
This is a message I preached all season, before going against my own advice and trading out both Michael Gordon and George Burgess for slightly better keepers later in the year. Not only did it cost me two trades, but those guys later became two of the few quality keepers available in their positions following the late-season injury disaster.
7) Don't burn all your trades before the end of the season
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Injured players like Josh Dugan and Ben Barba are not giving me much value on the bench at the moment. Now it's time to cross my fingers and hope the likes of Cameron Smith and Corey Parker stay injury-free for the rest of the year.
What are your big mistakes of the season, or your best buys? How will you do things differently in 2014?
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The Scouts 2013 trades analysis
(Round; trade; type of trade; good trade/bad trade)
Rd 2: Sam Rapira > George Burgess – Recruiting a must-have cash cow/cheap keeper, good trade
Rd 2: Justin Horo > Ryan James – One cash cow for another, sideways trade
Rd 3: Gerard Beale > Matt Gillett – A dud for a mid-range cash cow/potential keeper, good trade
Rd 4: Lewis Brown > Vai Toutai – Potential cash cow for another potential cash cow, sideways
Rd 4: Jamie Buhrer > Sonny Bill Williams – Mid-range dud for a keeper, good trade
Rd 5: Jacob Miller > Tom Humble – Dud for a dud, bad trade
Rd 6: Nathan Smith > Jack Stockwell – Dud for a cash cow, good trade
Rd 7: David Klemmer > Tariq Sims – Dud for cash cow with a good bye schedule, good trade
Rd 8: Tom Humble > Trent Hodkinson – Dud for cash cow/keeper, good trade (made a $40K profit on Humble)
Rd 8: Daniel Tupou > Matt Moylan – Peaked cash cow for potential cash cow, good trade ($70.1K profit on Tupou)
Rd 9: Kurt Gidley > Daly Cherry-Evans – Under-performing mid-range cash cow for a keeper, good trade ($40.3k profit on Gidley)
Rd 9: Jack Buchanan > Suaso Sue – Cashing out one cash cow for another, good trade ($122.1k profit on Buchanan)
Rd 10: Vai Toutai > Jordan Kahu – Cash cow for rookie winger, decent trade ($86.9k profit on Toutai)
Rd 10: Matt Gillett > Sam Burgess – Borderline keeper for definite keeper, good trade (a little sideways) ($116.3k profit on Gillett)
Rd 11: Tohu Harris > James Graham – Cashing out a cow for a keeper, good trade ($193.8K profit on Harris)
Rd 11: Jarryd Hayne > Ben Barba – Injured gun for a potential keeper, decent trade ($65.4K loss on Hayne)
Rd 12: Scott Moore > Michael Ennis – Dud for a good bye-round scorer, good trade
Rd 12: Ben Te'o > Dane Gagai – Mid-range centre for a low-range scorer, bad trade which did at least free up some cash ($11.3k profit on Te'o)
Rd 12 Greg Inglis > Josh Dugan – Gun with a bad Origin/bye schedule for another gun, good trade ($35.4k profit on Inglis)
Rd 13: Albert Kelly > Benji Marshall – Cash cow/borderline keeper for another cash cow, decent trade ($196.5k profit on Kelly)
Rd 14: Jacob Kahu > David Nofoaluma – Dud for cash cow/keeper, good trade (36.6k profit)
Rd 14: Ryan James > Dunamis Lui – Peaked cash cow for a dud, decent trade ($88.6k profit on James)
Rd 15: Jack Stockwell > Tom Burgess – Cashing out a cash cow, decent trade ($107.3k profit on Stockwell)
Rd 16: Michael Ennis > Robbie Farah – Upgrade to a keeper, good trade
Rd 16: George Burgess > Corey Parker – Upgrading a borderline keeper to a definite keeper, decent trade ($231.6k profit on Burgess)
Rd 17: Michael Gordon > Greg Inglis – Upgrading a borderline keeper to definite keeper, decent trade
Rd 18: Benji Marshall > Ben Hampton – Peaked cash cow for a NPR, good trade ($93.1k profit on Marshall)
Rd 18: Jacob Loko > Jamie Lyon – Injured keeper for a top keeper, good trade ($144.6k profit on Loko)
Rd 19: Tariq Sims > Aaron Woods – Cash cow to a keeper, good trade ($84.9k profit on Sims)
Rd 19: Greg Inglis > Michael Jennings – Injured keeper for another keeper, decent trade (could have kept Inglis and suffered some short-term pain)
Rd 20: Suaso Sue > Curtis Rona – Cashed out a cash cow, good trade ($98.6k profit on Sue)
Rd 22: Aaron Woods > Andrew Fifita – Injured keeper for a top keeper, good trade
Rd 23: Shaun Fensom > Paul Gallen – Injured keeper for a keeper, good trade
Rd 23: Trent Merrin > Josh McGuire – Injured keeper for a keeper, good trade