Just three games remain before the start of the Dream Team finals series – will you make the eight in your league? If you're in the mix, there are three massive weeks coming up, where you either need to put your trades to good use to wrap up a finals spot or – if you're safe already – save them up for the big knockout games. Remember, the bottom eight in each league will play off in a finals series as well, so it's worth sticking with it if you're off the pace now, if only to win the best-of-the-rest title.
But the Dream Team gods haven't made things easy with some unwelcome developments on the injury front this week.
I've been peppered with questions this week, mostly revolving around two key second-rowers. As ever, "to trade or not to trade" is the question, and it's a time when those DT coaches who managed to keep some trades up their sleeve earlier in the year will now be reaping the rewards. Speaking of which, I'll update you on how my high-trading Lone Scouts are faring against my hypothetical low-trading Reset Scouts in a moment.
Firstly though, to the players at the centre of this week's big Dream Team questions:
Ashley Harrison – a very tricky situation for the hard-working Titans lock, who left the field early last weekend with just two Dream Team points to his name. His hyper-extended elbow will see him ruled out "for a few weeks", according to his Twitter account, while the Titans themselves have given him the dreaded "indefinite" as a due back date.
It means there are several factors to consider when answering the question I've been asked most this week: "Do I keep Harrison or trade him out?"
Presuming he is out for three-to-four weeks (and even making that assumption could be a gamble), he could be worth keeping if you: a) haven't got many trades up your sleeve; b) have got some depth in your squad to cover for him; and/or c) have some relatively easy head-to-head league match-ups coming up or have a finals spot wrapped up already.
On the other hand, he's worth trading out if you: a) have plenty of trades left; b) haven't got a spare 40-point player to bring into your 17; or c) are playing for overall points, or are facing some must-win head-to-head matches.
Chances are he'll be back to scoring strongly again in a month, but that could be too long to wait if you need your team scoring at its peak right now. Of course, with the Titans' season effectively already over, there's also the possibility of Harrison not coming back at all...
David Stagg – Jim Dymock hasn't wasted his time putting his stamp on the Bulldogs lineup since taking over the reins as head coach, with former rep centre Josh Morris the biggest loser after being dumped to NSW Cup. But for Dream Team coaches, the decision to relegate workaholic lock Stagg to the bench is a bigger problem.
When given the chance to play the full 80 minutes, Stagg is a 55-point-a-week player. But his chances have been limited this season, resulting in a string of lower scores including last week's 39 (his price has dipped from $328,400 to $270,900 since round 11). Now it looks like Dymock does not rate him as one of his best 13, and unless he has a change of heart it looks like Stagg's high-scoring days could be over.
Again, if you're low on trades, it could be worth keeping the faith that he'll be able to win his starting spot back (or at least post handy 40+ scores from the bench). It's early days for Dymock's tenure at the Dogs, so it wouldn't be a major surprise to see him chop and change his starting side for the next couple of weeks – particularly if they don't start winning. Otherwise, now is the time to cut your losses. Stagg's club captain Andrew Ryan was given the full 80 minutes by Dymock last week, scoring 55, and could be a better option for the rest of the season, while the likes of Glenn Stewart, Michael Luck and Simon Mannering are also looking like better bets.
Paul Gallen – unless you've got a lot of trades left he's still a long-term keeper if he's in your side, as even if his tackle counts are down a little this year he remains arguably the hardest working player in the comp with ball in hand. Having him in your team this week though could be a different story – he's finally admitted to tiredness following Origin, is struggling with a calf injury and is unlikely to be fit to take on the Knights this week. Only risk him in your 17 if you've got a solid-scoring auto-emergency lined up amongst your reserves.
Cameron Smith – yes, he's Dream Team's best player when he plays 80 minutes, but Craig Bellamy has not ruled out the possibility he could again start his captain off the bench against the Broncos tonight. It's happened for the past few weeks due to Smith's heavy workload over the Origin period. But up against top-four rivals Brisbane, can Bellamy really afford to start the game without the best hooker in the world? The good news is the Storm will have to name their team before lockout begins on Friday night, meaning you can wait until the final hour before deciding to trade Smith in or make him your captain.
Simon Mannering, Elijah Taylor, Ben Smith – see last week's column (for the short answer, yes Mannering is worth buying while Taylor and Smith are probably worth keeping, depending on your trade count).
Kyle Stanley – Some have earmarked this week's starting Dragons hooker as a good option for a way to get some fast money in the CTW or HLF spots. It's true that hookers score well, and Stanley is due for a big price bump next week, but swooping on the Dragon is a very short-term move. Ben Hornby comes back next week (and is even a chance to return on Monday), likely bumping Nathan Fien into the hooker's role, and fellow rake Dean Young is back the week after. And even this week the Dragons have Mitch Rein sitting on the bench, who will take some minutes – and points – off Stanley as the back-up hooker. All in all, bringing in Stanley doesn't look the wisest move at this time of the year, when you should be using your precious trades to buy long-term keepers, not short-term cash cows.
Looking now to last week's performance of the Reset Scouts – my hypothetical team that had made limited trades during the season in order to save up plenty for the run home. Last week my original team the Lone Scouts, who have used up the vast majority of the allocated 30 trades for the year, would have prevailed over the Resets with a respectable but unspectacular score of 763, compared with the Reset's 727. But while the Lone Scouts don't have much room to move in the market this week, the Resets will be making another two trades – bringing in Nathan Hindmarsh for Gallen and Cameron Smith (assuming he starts) for Nathan Fien. Srama moves into the halves (having swapped with Fien), while Ben Jones starts ahead of Jarrod Croker in the centres.
So this week's line-up for the Reset Scouts will be:
Widdop; Glenn, Taylor, N. Smith, Jones; Cronk, Cherry-Evans, Srama; Tolman, Kasiano; Smith, Farah; Hindmarsh (c), Fensom, Johnson, Houston, Mannering; with $39.9K left in the bank.
And finally, a little bit of reminiscing to show how fast things can change in the world of Dream Team. This could bring some warm memories for those DT coaches who look back fondly at 2010, and a bit of a surprise for those who have been Dream Team die-hards in 2011.
Below is the final squad for the Dream Team that won the overall competition last season:
Todd Carney, Daniel Fitzhenry; Mitchell Aubusson, Ben Smith, Luke Lewis, Beau Scott, Jason Nightingale, Adam Mogg, Gerard Beale; Terry Campese, Jamie Soward, Arana Taumata, Tom Humble; Jason Ryles, Aiden Tolman, Trent Merrin, Sam Mataora; Robbie Farah, Cameron Smith; Paul Gallen, Nathan Hindmarsh, Corey Parker, David Stagg, Micheal Luck and Liam Fulton.
While the forward pack has a familiar feel for 2011 DT coaches, the backline now looks almost unrecognisable. For one thing, it's not technically possible anymore, with Todd Carney, Luke Lewis and Beau Scott no longer considered dual-position players. Then there's the season-ending injuries to Terry Campese and Mitchell Aubusson, and the presence of the now retired Adam Mogg.
As way of comparison, the squad belonging to the current Dream Team leaders has just six players in common with last year's champion (Cameron Smith, Hindmarsh, Parker, Stagg, Tolman and Ben Smith). It's a refreshing reminder that, no matter how badly things may go for you this year, it'll be a clean slate next season with a host of new rookies and bargains entering the fray (and a few new rule changes to boot).
Speaking of which, if you have some good ideas on Dream Team rule changes – for scoring, trading, squad sizes, etc – send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pass on the best of them on to the people concerned the consider for Dream Team 2012.
Good luck this week and keep dreaming.