With Toyota NRL Dream Team head-to-head leagues about to begin, NRL.com's Lone Scout provides his how-to guide for succeeding against your mates.
Now the fun really begins. The first Toyota NRL Dream Team price changes kicked in this week for all players to have played three games. Your squad should now be starting to look more settled (even if injuries are still wreaking havoc), and you should have a bit of a plan about which players you'd like to keep all season and which ones will be on the chopping board in the weeks to come.
But now, it's a whole new ball game. The first head-to-head league match-ups will kick off on Friday night, meaning you'll be paired off against another Dream Team this weekend, with two competition points up for grabs. Get enough wins to reach your league's top eight and you'll take part in a head-to-head finals series during the final four rounds of the NRL regular season.
Here are my six commandments for succeeding against your mates, colleagues, family members or even random opponents in your Dream Team head-to-head league.
1) Know your opponent
Just like for real NRL coaches, one key to winning in Dream Team leagues is researching your opponent on any given week. Luckily, research is relatively easy in DT – by clicking on a team name in your league ladder, you can see the entire 25-man squad an opponent had, going into the previous round. That last part's important – beware that you won't be able to see any trades a team may have made during the week, until lockout commences on Friday night. You also won't be able to see what your opponent's starting 17 was last week.
But still, a glance at another team's squad makeup can tell you a lot. Who is likely to be their captain? Do they use solid defensive players in their backline, or riskier attacking outside backs that are just as likely to score 15 as they are to score 70? Are they nursing injuries? Which players are they likely to trade out this week?
That kind of information can be a great help. If you think they have a stronger team than yours on paper, consider using more of your riskier outside backs in your 17 in an effort to spring an "upset" (as we've seen, any backline player who scores a try or two can post a big score). Or maybe pick a different captain – say a Sam Burgess or a Tony Williams instead of a Shaun Fensom or Cameron Smith. A point of difference could be the key in a one-on-one contest.
On the other hand, if you think you should have your opponent covered, rely more on your solid consistent players (and captain) to make sure you don't throw away your upper hand.
2) Only trade if you need to
In head-to-head leagues, saving trades can be crucially important. While players aiming for overall glory need to be up amongst the top scorers for practically the entire season, head-to-head players simply need to win enough games to make their finals series. Once you get to the finals, having trades up your sleeve could be the difference between an early exit and grand final glory.
So, don't use trades when you don't need to. Sometimes you need to trade regardless of who you're playing against – like when a star is injured, or one of your player's price tags is about to fall rapidly, or the player you want to buy is about to skyrocket in value.
But other times a quick check of your rival's team could show you that you don't need to trade just yet. If your team stands a strong chance of beating your head-to-head rival this week, consider holding off on that trade you've got planned. You never know when an injury will come up somewhere else that requires a trade.
Remember, all you're chasing every week is a win. The fact you don't need to score the maximum amount of points possible every week means you can really pick and choose the best time to trade.
3) Make the most of the cash cows
So, you've grabbed a bunch of bargains who will rise in value this year, what do you do now? Trade them out, of course, but here timing is everything.
A cash cow's value will generally climb for four or five weeks, depending on how consistently they are scoring. So, with prices having started to move this week, around Round 7 and 8 is when your cows should be peaking in value.
Seeing as you can't make eight trades at once after Round 7, you need to plan out when you're going to "cash out" your bargain buys. The usual trick is to trade out two players at once, while bringing in one $77,100 cheapie and one big-scoring gun to strengthen your starting 17.
But make sure you time it right – trading out a cash cow too early could mean you don't get the full value out of him, and too late could mean the same thing (as their price could start falling again).
For the regular, consistent scorers, aim to trade them out just as their price peaks in Round 7 or 8. It's a little trickier with the backline players, whose prices are likely to fluctuate more than the workhorse forwards. Consider waiting until just after one of your backs has enjoyed a strong run of form (scoring tries in back-to-back games, for example), before trading them out. On the other hand, if they hit a low score around that time, cut them quickly to avoid their price dropping too much.
Remember – a player's price is based on their last three performances, so by looking back at their recent scores you should be able to predict whether a player's price tag will rise or fall.
4) Beware the byes
Between rounds 10 and 18, at least two NRL teams will be having a bye every week. The major bye rounds (Rounds 11, 14, 17 and 18) are also byes in Dream Team leagues, meaning head-to-head players can practically ignore them. (They will make the race for overall points a bit of a war of attrition though, with State of Origin players to also sit out rounds 11, 14 and 17.)
But even without those four tough rounds to worry about, there are five more weeks in which some star players will be out of action for all Dream Teams. The teams with byes in those weeks are below:
Round 10: Tigers, Rabbitohs
Round 12: Warriors, Sharks
Round 13: Panthers, Roosters
Round 15: Raiders, Knights
Round 16: Warriors, Sharks
Crucially for head-to-head players, the Warriors and Sharks each have two byes in that period. It means players like Todd Carney, Paul Gallen, James Maloney, Shaun Johnson, Feleti Mateo and Konrad Hurrell could become liabilities over that period.
The good teams when it comes to byes (as far as head-to-head players go) are the Broncos, Eels, Bulldogs, Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Storm and Titans. Keep an eye on players from these teams around Origin time, particularly those who are likely to get increased game time when the rep stars are away.
5) Keep your eyes on the prize
If you've picked winning your head-to-head league as your goal for the season, try your best to stick to it.
That means try to ignore you overall ranking as best you can. It also means the Eliminator competition takes a back seat. Sure, you're still in with a chance of taking out the prize, but try to avoid making trades purely for the sake of winning your Eliminator match-up. Only make a trade if it would also boost your head-to-head chances.
It's also wise to try to lie low during rounds 17 and 18, when head-to-head leagues will have back-to-back bye weeks. Again, it'll be tempting to make trades to improve your overall score, but the smart move is to leave your team as it is until you see the Round 19 team lists. You'd be kicking yourself if you brought in a player in Round 17, only to see him injured a week later.
And don't think that ignoring the overall points race means you're out of the running for prizes. Getting enough quality players in your team will give you a real shot at taking out a weekly $500 prize (plus two NRL Finals tickets). In fact, head-to-head Dream Teams that peak late in the season may have an even better chance of taking out a weekly prize than the overall points-focused teams.
OK, so this isn't technically a vital tactic for Dream Team success, but it can certainly make the game more enjoyable. What's the point in taking part in a head-to-head comp if you can't heckle your colleagues on a Monday morning? Or play some trade mind-games with your mates on a Friday afternoon?
Don't worry if this idea doesn't come easy to you know, you'll become a natural in the art of Dream Team gloating once you notch your first win.
Here's hoping it happens this week (unless you're taking on me).