So, signed up to Toyota NRL Dream Team yet? How's your team looking?
It's still very early days in the Dream Team landscape, with another month yet before the start of the season. But with player prices available and trial matches having begun on the weekend (with Adam Reynolds and Ryan Carr auditioning for the Rabbitohs No.7 jersey against the Warrington Wolves), it's time to take a look at a few possible bargain buys.
Next week I'll identify some of the rookies to watch, including last year's Toyota Cup stars who could make the step up to the NRL sometime in 2012, but today I'll run through a 10 potentially undervalued players who are setting tongues wagging in the Dream Team world.
Don't assume all the players listed below will pay off this season (this article isn't meant to pick your team for you). All these players are risks to a certain degree – some are under injury clouds, others are playing under a new coach for the first time, and some will be fighting to get a starting spot. It's up to you to judge which players are worth the gamble.
And remember, there are plenty of potential bargains out there that I'm leaving out.
Corey Norman $171,800 (Broncos half/winger-fullback)
Pros: Is expected to have the edge on Ben Hunt in the race for the vacant Broncos No.6 jersey in the wake of Darren Lockyer's retirement. Has a strong boot on him so should get his share of kick metres, despite halfback Peter Wallace presumably taking on most of Brisbane's playmaking duties. Is a dual-position player also available in the fullback/winger spot.
Cons: Not guaranteed a first team place, with Hunt, Luke Capewell and possibly even Matt Gillett in the running for the five-eighth spot. And with a $171,800 price tag, there could be cheaper bargains out there in the halves.
Tony Williams $161,000 (Sea Eagles second-rower/centre)
Pros: Dual position player who could join the ranks of classic Dream Team 2RF/CTRs this year. Will be one of the big winners from the new DT scoring system, with tackle breaks now worth three points a pop. Won a starting berth in Manly's back row at the end of last season, after being an impact sub for much of the year. If he is still in the Eagles' first 13 then his price should jump this year.
Cons: Despite Des Hasler promoting Williams to the starting team during the finals last season, new coach Geoff Toovey could again use Williams off the bench, which would again limit his time on the field. If T-Rex's minutes don't increase on last season, neither will his value.
Terry Campese $248,900 (Raiders half)
Pros: Is significantly cheaper than he was in 2010, when he was carving things up for the Raiders. If he regains his old role as Canberra' go-to playmaker, he could be a long-term keeper to rival Maloney, Cherry-Evans, Soward and co.
Cons: Suffered two separate injuries last year to miss essentially the entire season. Fitness will still be a worry this time around. Could just prove to be a waste of a trade if he goes down early again. Fellow Raiders halves Josh McCrone and Sam Williams are both much improved after last season and could take on more of the playmaking duties.
Todd Carney $203,600 (Sharks half/winger-fullback)
Pros: A Dally M-winning half whose price has dipped after easily his worst year (on the field) in 2011. Will no longer be sharing the playmaking duties with the NSW halfback and should be Cronulla's main man in attack. Can kick goals, and is a dual-position option at fullback.
Cons: Unlike others in this list, his price drop is purely based on last year's scores – meaning his price won't rise unless he improves. It also won't be a major surprise if things go south for him off the field at Cronulla this year, as they did for the troubled star at the Roosters and Raiders.
Tariq Sims $218,900 (Cowboys second-rower)
Pros: Was a great buy last season, and is a hard-worker in defence and an explosive ball-carrier in attack. Should benefit from a scoring system that recognises tackle breaks and one-on-one tackles. A workhorse during his Toyota Cup days, Sims should get more minutes on the park in his second NRL season.
Cons: Will only get a slight bump in value this year after being a big climber in 2011. Only played the full 80-minutes three times last season, and will need more of those games if he is to become a dominant Dream Team player. Also a huge chance of being out of action during the Origin series if and when the NSW selectors come calling.
Clint Newton $164,200 (Panthers second-rower)
Pros: A former premiership-winner with Newcastle and Melbourne (OK, technically not a premiership winner with the Storm, but you get the idea), Newton was rated a 37-point-a-game player in his last NRL season back in 2007. His current price tag is that of a 27-point player, so he's good value, theoretically at least. Could be the man Penrith turn to in the back row after the departure of Trent Waterhouse.
Cons: After four years in the UK Super League, will Newton suffer from Matt Orford syndrome? Even if he doesn't flop, Newton could be a bit-part player at the Panthers alongside Lewis, Plum, Smith & co.
Zeb Taia $227,400 (Knights second-rower)
Pros: Taia's price has been shrunk after an injury-wrecked 2011 campaign, in which he performed very well in his four games. Is a strong ball-runner who can notch up plenty of tackle breaks. Under the new scoring system he would have averaged 48 last year, and 51 back in 2009. If he posts similar scores this year his value should climb by about $60,000.
Cons: He'll probably need to continue to get big minutes under new Knights coach Wayne Bennett if his price is to rise – something not guaranteed in a pack featuring fellow back-rowers Chris Houston, Joel Edwards, Matt Hilder, Adam Cuthbertson and Neville Costigan. Taia doesn't exactly come cheap either, so limited minutes could even see his price go down.
Justin Poore $111,400 (Eels front-rower)
Pros: A one-time NSW Origin prop who, like many in this list, comes relatively cheap thanks to a long-term injury last year. Averaged just in the mid-20s last season, but was a mid-30s scorer over the four years before that. Could get added minutes during the Origin period if fellow Eel Tim Mannah keeps his Blues spot.
Cons: Will again sit behind Mannah and Fuifui Moimoi in the Eels' front-row pecking order. Injury doubts remain, and he'll only net you a $20-30K price rise unless his scores return to the 30s. Is that worth the trade you'll need to use to cash him out?
Sam Burgess $201,400 (Rabbitohs front-rower/second-rower)
Pros: South Sydney's resident pommie star was a Dream Team must-have upon arriving in the NRL in 2010, but he was a write-off with just four games to his name last season. This year he's somewhere in between, with his value nice and cheap but his reliability in question. If he resumes his old 40+ scoring his price tag will climb. Is also a DPP, available in both the front and second row.
Cons: Is Burgess injury prone? His value won't go anywhere if he doesn't get regular minutes, and even if he does play he's not starting from the low base that he did in 2010, meaning other forwards could be better cash cow options.
Nathan Friend $246,500 (Warriors hooker)
Pros: A former Dream Team star at the Titans, whose price has taken a dive after an injury-ravaged 2011 season. One of the NRL's hardest-working defenders and capable of playing 80 minutes.
Cons: After effectively spending a year out of the game, and finding himself at a brand new club, Friend is no longer guaranteed the full 80 minutes each week under Brian McClennan. He scores basically all his points through tackling, so will lose much of his sting if his game-time gets reduced.
That's it for now. There are plenty more to be found, even if there seems to be fewer "must have" bargains this year compared to seasons gone by. Next week I'll take a look at the all important rookies who could be the big money-makers in 2012.
In the meantime, follow my Facebook page or Twitter account for regular updates on player news, and keep a close eye on the trial form over the next few weeks.