SPOT THE BARGAIN BUYS

G'day Dream Teamers. First up, the good news – NRL Dream Team is open for 2011!

So, time to get down to business and plan ahead for how you're going to dominate rugby league's most addictive game this year.

There's plenty of time to finalise your squad before the NRL season kicks off next month. If you haven't already, sign up now and check out last week's column for the basics and some early tips on which players to buy.

Don't forget, if you register before March 11, you could be eligible to win $10,000 worth of early bird prizes. This season there will also be weekly cash prizes, plus the major prize - a Toyota FJ cruiser! There will be over $75,000 in total for prizes!

This week I'm taking a look at some strategies to keep in mind for hunting down those bargain buys who will help make your team a dominant force come the end of the season.

Being able to find a bargain is one of the biggest advantage that successful Dream Team coaches have over the rest of the pack. Spotting the big name players is pretty easy – they're the most expensive players for a reason. But finding the players who are undervalued and will make you money is the key – find them early on, and you won't be constricted by the $4.2m salary cap come the end of the season.

It's important to keep in mind that your team will improve as the season goes on. So, you may start with one big-name playmaker, a gun hooker and three or four good forwards, but – if you trade smartly – end the season with an entire forward pack, two hookers and two halves all scoring big points each week.

To get to that point, you need to jump onto the bargains early – and trade them out when the time is right. Buying a player for $100,000 and selling him for $250,000 will mean you have an extra $150,000 above and beyond the original salary cap to spend on your team.

When scouting the bargains, remember that each player's value changes based on their recent form – specifically, their past three games. So, if a player scores well in his three most recent games, his value should go up, and if he scores poorly in those games, it'll go down.

This is crucial to keep in mind early on, because it means that a player's value won't change at all until he has played three matches. So you can track cheap players for a few weeks before making the decision whether to snap them up. If timed right, the player's value may take a big leap the week after you buy him.

A good example of this from last season was Canberra second-rower Shaun Fensom. Largely unheard of before the season began, Fensom was valued at $112,200 when he began the year with scores of 39 and 61 – big numbers for a player so cheap.

Dream Team coaches who snapped him up at that point were instantly rewarded, as Fensom posted another big score of 58 the following week and his value jumped a whopping $61,600. Coaches who took another week to jump onto the Fensom train still benefited, with his price leaping another $53,000 following Round 4.

By Round 7, Fensom was valued at $274,700 – his season peak. At this point, the canny coaches sold him off to raise cash to be spent on big name stars later in the season.

The point I'm making is, you can spot the value buys if you follow the scoring closely early in the year. The earlier you buy them, the more you'll cash in.

Of course, there's already a swag of cheap players waiting to be bought right now. Some will be great value buys.

Keep an eye out for players who missed all or most of last season through injury or because they were playing overseas, and also those young guns who starred in the Toyota Cup and could make the step up to first grade this year.

Want some names? You'll have to stay tuned until next week’s column, when I'll pick out some of the best value Dream Team players to watch. (An early teaser: Manly have a young gun in the halves who is likely to get a lot of game time this year, and is less than $80,000.) Until then, keep following me on Twitter and Facebook, where the debate about bargain buys has already begun.