OK Dreamers, here we go, the business end of the year is upon us and it's time for NRL Dream Team coaches to catch their own special brand of finals fever.
First up, I reckon it's worth repeating the structure for the private-league finals action is the McIntyre System. This week it's 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6 and 4 v 5, with the two lowest-ranked losers done and dusted for 2011 and the two top-ranked winners earning a bye. From next week it's sudden death.
If you didn't finish in the top eight in your league (you obviously weren't listening to my advice, but I'm sure you did your best and there is always next year) there is still plenty to play for as the bottom half of the eight has its own finals series ... a best-of-the-rest if you will, but still worthy of getting the competitive juices flowing and a way to earn bragging rights over that know-it-all in accounting (or the one who writes this article). It too runs under the McIntyre system.
Week one of this year's finals series is an absolute killer with many of the big names rules out and another bunch of big names listed as 50/50 to start. It's chaos in the Dream Team universe.
So how do you navigate through this nasty period? As best as you can is the simple answer. The finals series is a mini-Eliminator so the primary goal is to stay alive, with the associated objective of setting up next week as best you can.
To do this best you will need to focus on managing your remaining trades, dealing with the player omissions and getting your CTWs right (as this position is the most difficult to nail down regular scorers). Read on for my thoughts on these three conundrums.
1 - Trading
Hopefully you have some trades left, but maybe you don't. If you have kept some up your sleeve (as I've been suggesting all year) you can navigate the tricky waters of late-season mishaps. Ben Hannant and Nate Myles are two big-scoring forwards omitted this week, whilst CTW gun Mark Gasnier has also been ruled out with an 'indefinite' injury. If you have these guys it's time to use those trades to avoid being knocked-out in week one.
If you're not covering the absence of vital players, you should be planning how to use your trades to best advantage. With the exception of Fensom, Hindmarsh and (possibly) Gallen you should consider ditching players whose teams are already out of finals contention. When a handful of points can make a world of difference, you don't want to be sweating on extra missed tackles or fewer minutes as the also-rans change their ways and drop the intensity. The football dished up by some of the teams with nothing to play for is getting a little embarrassing and the missed tackle counts are rising. Yes, this means they might be tackling more, but offensive output is becoming sloppy and errors are killing some guys ... Anyone still have Jarrod Croker?
Unless you have the full eight trades up your sleeve, you need to be conscious of your trade count and how your finals will play out. If you're running out, relate your strategy to your ladder position. If you're in the top two, you can't be eliminated in week one, so it may be best to save a trade or both. For example, the Roosters may allow Nate Myles to play next week, so it could better to wait a week before shipping him out. If you're in the bottom two and need help … make the last brave moves now. No point having trades in the bag if you are belted by the No.1-ranked team this week.
2 - Injury and Suspension
This week the use-it-or-lose-it trade policy described above really applies to all but the top two on your league ladder, as there are many high-profile players who may not turn up this week. It means there will be upsets in week one match-ups and you don't want to be a victim, so go for broke.
To help you decide how to do that here's a quick list of the more significant player rules out or in doubt:
- Paul Gallen: Now listed to play thanks to the judiciary's trust in his honour, I've got it on good authority he will play this week despite lingering doubts over his on-going calf injury. Keep him in, as he is as tough as nails and has prior form with turning injury doubts into a points avalanche.
- Nate Myles: Out for one week minimum and on his way to the Titans next year, but in great DT form. Myles is a tough decision. For mine, you hold him only if you are sure of a win or have a suitable substitute. Otherwise it would be wise to trade for a gun, especially if you don't already have Parker, Tolman, Fensom or Hindmarsh.
- Jamie Soward: Doubtful, due to a lower-back disk bulge. There have been strong rumours he will miss R23 as his coach will rest him so he is better prepared for the match with the Storm. Soward himself says he's trained and is right to go, so it's Bennett's call. Definitely do not trade, and play him if you have a good auto-emergency scenario or if you have no choice and need to roll the dice.
- Ben Hannant: Out for one minimum. The chat during the week is he will be back next week or the week after, but he was listed as a three or four-week scenario earlier. A DT gun when he's on, Hannant is worth keeping for at least one more week, assuming you can cover the points. If you're struggling without him look to Tolman, Mannah or Bailey to fill his shoes, with Douglas and Tamou your lower-priced options.
- Ashley Harrison: Likely gone for the remainder of the season, you should ship him out of you can. Cronk, Maloney or Hodkinson come in if you have Harro as a HLF. The obvious list of guns (see Myles above) are your options if Harro is a 2RF.
- Matt Hilder: Trade him.
- Anthony Laffranchi: Moved back to 2RF in a Titans side without Harrison, Laffranchi suddenly looked a good option for the last 2RF spot for your team. He's in some doubt with a cork this week, so it's probably wise to avoid him, but have a look at him again next week.
- Greg Bird: Struggling with injury lately and very inconsistent. Why do you have him? Trade now.
- Elijah Taylor: Rested this week, Taylor should be in the Warriors 17 next week, but likely still as a bench option. If he's a CTW for you, hold him if you can as he's still the perfect 5th CTW/auto-emergency. If he's in your HLF division, sub him to CTW if you can or trade-up now.
- Mark Gasnier: Out for at least this week, maybe longer. Similar to Myles, he is a carry-for-a-week-if-you-can option, however, I'd be more inclined to trade him out as there are CTW alternatives that are cheaper and in form.
Gaz and Taylor are a decent segue to part 3, choosing the best CTW quartet.
The list of usual suspects is a long one, illustrating the difficulty of getting the CTW combination correct and how significant to your final fortunes a decent quartet is. Here's a quick wrap of where things stand.
- Alex Glenn: $205.1K (recent scores: 28, 32, 38 = 32.7 average for last three played).
A previous must-have, I wonder if Ben Te'o's return is bad news for Glenn (who got 44 minutes last round)? Will play and score OK, so don't trade unless you have real freedom to be creative, but if you do trade him you may just make the point of difference that is the ultimate winning move (as most finals teams will have him).
- Elijah Taylor: $186.7K (28, 28, 25 = 27). What is Cleary thinking? Doesn't he know he's put us all through the wringer over the last few weeks, and now this DT star is rested. Hold him if you can, he will be back and will score as well as other CTWs, even if he is a bench forward. At worst he's your back-up CTW and a decent auto-emergency.
- Dene Halatau: $181.4K (40, 33, 40 = 37.7). Did someone say, "the new Alex Glenn"? Turned into a must-have following Moore's axing. Starts, plays, is a former international who Jim Dymock seems to want playing. Get him in.
- Nathan Smith: $188.2K (27, 17, 39 = 27.7). Always worth considering as a hard-working backrower, Smith is a solid choice, but shows some signs of inconsistent scoring lately. Will get minutes and convert them, but just how many minutes is the question should Plum and Lewis be paired in the backrow again when Burns returns in R24. Past DT form against Tigers is also below par.
- Ben Smith: $191.7K (35, 27, 37 = 33). Now set to be used as a centre for the duration, but still tackles. Solid contributor in a struggling team. Scores well against Manly and Tigers (next two matches).
- Mark Gasnier: $192.4K (25, 43, 20 = 29.3). Gone off the boil since announcing this would be his last year. Gaz was the model of high-scoring consistency until Origin was done, but is now up-and-down. Still rates as the non-2RF centre with most scoring potential and now has a reasonable price and seems to love playing the Roosters and Warriors. Unfortunately, he's out this week and tagged with the dreaded 'indefinite'. See above for trade thoughts.
- Matt Cooper: $193.3K (36, 36, 28 = 33.3) Wily old veteran and arguably still No.1 centre going 'round. Some injury concern. Consistent scorer. Three of last four at WIN where he averages approx 29.
- Joel Thompson: $140.8K (34, 29, 9 =24) Strong capable and consistent, despite playing for also-rans. Ignore the 9 (it came from half a match). Worth considering at the price.
- Maurice Blair: $194.1K (19, 36, 49 = 34.7) That bumper 49 against the Broncos is inflating his appeal, but Blair is a decent option. He has held his place, gets involved and is a reliable scorer who occasionally goes big. Dual-position classification adds to his appeal. Worth holding if you have him.
- Lewis Brown: $122.3K (30, 0, 24 = 18). Mr Fix-it for the Warriors returned to action last week and knocked up a reasonable score as a starting centre. Scores better as a backrower, but does score regardless and does seem to be a definite selection (somewhere) due to his versatility. A good cheap option, if he can force his way back in.
- Joel Moon: $170.4K (30, 47, 28 = 35) Slipped straight back into the starting line-up after stepping down last week, he would appear to be back in favour over the ditch. Moon is also a solid competitor who gets involved and scores consistently. Worth a look.
- Jamie Lyon: $160.4K (27, 24, 23 = 24.7). It's been a bit lean of late for Lyon, but he is the Eagles' kicker (despite some poor recent form) and a certain starter. Always follows up average scores with a handful of big ones and has three tough match-ups to come (I'm including the Eels as it's a grudge match).
- Jason Nightingale: $125.8K (17, 25, 14 = 18.7). Goes well when the Dragons are going well ... but they're not and his recent scores show it. I'd stay away at this point.
There are also many other not-so-obvious alternatives who are worth consideration. Here's a short wrap of a handful:
- Adam MacDougall: $160.6K (43, 26, 35 = 34.7) Old, grumpy and mad, so you know he's going to have a go. Has some injury issues, but appears to be solid enough to cover the home straight. With the Knights pushing for finals Mad Dog will go for it and the decent scores should keep coming.
- Nathan Merritt: $108.3K (57, 13, 12 = 27). Starting R23 at fullback after his heroics last round, Merritt deserves consideration. A genuine finisher in a form team, he is worth serious thought as a cheap (but risky) alternative, especially as part of a double trade to get a more expensive, solid upgrade elsewhere.
- Brent Tate: $152.8K (25, 21, 29 = 25). A hard one to pick as Tate has only a handful of matches this term. To his credit he's scored okay and he is a class act who has prior DT form and is starting in a team that is vying for a top-four position, but none of this convinces he's the right fit for your CTW line. Especially at that price.
- Danny Galea: $126.4K (28, 11, 18 = 19). I've said it before and I'll say it again, Danny looks attractive, but is really just a tease. Is getting a regular run late on, but I've been bitten before and learned my lesson. Avoid.
- Nathan Peats: $137.8K (29, 32, 14 = 25). Worked his way into high-30 to low-40 minutes of game time, as the Bunnies find some form. Scores are average to good for a CTW and appears to go better away from home, where Souths play three of the last four. Maybe a choice as fifth CTW if you're out of options.
- Michael Jennings: $143.8K (16, 43, 11 = 23.2) Too inconsistent to seriously consider, the move to fullback had the mouth watering that this might change, but his recent watering of the mouth has cost him his place. Check back again next week and seriously consider if listed to play at the back.
- Tony Williams: $134.2K (28, 5, 38 = 23.7). Ongoing injury has caused plenty of headaches in 2011, so be wary, but has DT promise as a bench backrower. I'd watch his R23 score for confirmation of this potential, but you could do worse as he looks like he's a first-choice reserve now that King is gone.
- Greg Inglis: $122.2K (35, 13, 8 =18.7). Capable of a big game, but you can't risk the hit/miss superstar.
- Jamal Idris: $123.3K (30, 23, 20 = 24.3). Capable of a score, but really is far too Inglis as far as DT is concerned.
- Steve Matai: $108.1K (28, 16, 8 = 17.3). Injury prone and random (in scoring and character). Not worth the gamble, unless you have a desperate need and only have $110K to spend.
As this non-exhaustive list shows there are many options who are capable of dropping a competitive score, but those big scores are randomly distributed, meaning many players are not considered as they fail to meet one of the key selection criteria: consistency.
So, after that massive rundown I'm recommending these guys as the best quartet for you: Glenn; Halatau; Cooper; and B Smith; with a guaranteed starter as back-up for mishaps (say, Lyon, Thompson or Mad Dog). If you can't afford that crew, don't panic – the centre-winger division is the most difficult to nail in 2011, so any combination of the names listed gives you a chance.
Moving on to more mundane bits and pieces, the Lone Scouts shadow team ran up a score of 753 in R22 to hand the Resets a narrow loss to the Scouts. This week the Resets should come into their own as the trade surplus allows scope to make necessary changes, even if they're short-term.
So, Farrell is out for Joel Thompson to sure-up the backline, then Myles and Allgood swap positions so I can trade in Parker for Allgood – leaving a measly $7.4k bank balance but allowing me to hold Myles for an extra week.
The Resets are now: Hayne, N Smith, Glenn, Halatau, J Thompson, Cronk, DCE, Srama, Tolman, Kasiano, C Smith (c), Farah, Hindmarsh, Fensom, Parker, D Johnson, Mannering. Reserves: Gagai, Croker, Jones, Tagatese, Henry, Taupau, Myles, O'Donnell.
Good luck against that lot, we're coming good. And my best to all the Dreamers, I hope you survive to play again next week.