Lone Scout, NRL.com
First things first: Toyota NRL Dream Team is open for 2012!
Just jump over here to log in or sign up for the first time. There are buckloads of prizes up for grabs, it's free to play, and you can go head-to-head with one of your mates each week to decide who really knows their footy. Do yourself a favour and sign up now if you haven't already. It's officially the most rugby league fun you can have without getting your knees dirty.
If you're new to fantasy NRL or just want a shot at a very easy $5000, you should also sign up for the brand new Toyota All Stars Dream Team, for an early taste of DT action. The All Stars game is the perfect warm-up for the real deal and a great chance to test drive the new game play in 2012.
For those not yet up to speed, I've already run through the changes to the game this year, the new scoring system and a guide to tactics for those new to the game. In the coming weeks I'll name a few players to look out for, but this week I'll run you through the art of finding the all-important cash cows.
The key to being a successful Toyota NRL Dream Team coach is not just spotting which players will consistently post the biggest scores in the game – most anyone can do that – it's figuring out how to get them all into your team. To make that happen you'll need to expand your salary cap, and the main way to do that is by recruiting cash cows.
Cash cows are players whose value in Dream Team starts small and grows large.
So the real skill you'll need is finding players who are undervalued. Each player's price tag will rise or fall on a weekly basis, based on their recent performances. Get onto a bargain early in the year, and that player could earn you plenty of salary-cap cash as the season goes on. Trade him out later in the year, at a profit, and that bonus cash would allow you to bring in a real Dream Team gun.
Using these cash cows wisely will allow you to increase your initial $4.4 million salary cap, meaning you can afford to field a star-studded team by the business end of the season, when you'll be challenging for your own league's title or maybe even the major prize.
Player prices can and do change quickly; somebody you buy for $100,000 could be worth $250,000 in a month's time if he performs well. Rookie of the Year Daly Cherry-Evans was a case in point in 2011, starting the season valued at $73,600 and finishing it at $339,400.
The best time to get hold of a cash cow is, not surprisingly, before the season starts. Jumping onto a bandwagon late and picking up a popular cash cow after Round 1 won't cost you a lot of money, but it will cost you one of your 30 designated trades.
As Dream Team veterans will know, trades are priceless. Having salary cap cash to spend in Dream Team is worth nothing if you run out of trades before the end of the season.
It's worth keeping in mind that exploiting a cash cow during the season could effectively cost you three trades in the long run – you use one trade to bring him in, another to trade him out later in the year, and a third to actually spend that extra cash he has gained your team.
So finding some potential bargains in your initial 25-man squad is crucial.
Study the field now for rookies who are likely to get game time or players who missed some or all of last season for one reason or another – they're likely to come at a reduced price this season.
In 2011, guys like North Queensland's Tariq Sims, Warrior Elijah Taylor, Titans hooker Matt Srama and Sharks pair Jayson Bukuya and Chad Townsend were all handy Dream Team rookies and much sought-after cash cows. The Knights' Chris Houston and the Cowboys' Dallas Johnson were also premium cash cows due to a reduced starting price after spending a year out of the NRL.
Once the season has begun, there's still plenty of time to spot a bargain. A player's value will change based on his scores in his last three matches – meaning his value won't change at all until he has played three games.
That makes Round 3 a crucial one when it comes to maximising a player's potential as a cash cow. If someone is playing out of his skin for two games and looks cheap compared with other players who are posting similar scores, consider snapping him up before his price jumps too high.
As a rule, a cash cow who scores consistently will generally increase in value for about five rounds (once his price has started moving). After that point, a player's value should be stable unless his form changes significantly. So for players who are in action from Round 1, their prices will start moving in Round 3 and shouldn't change much (injury and form notwithstanding) after Round 7.
There's still time during that period to snap up a bargain, but you won't make the same profit as a DT coach who spotted the cash cow early.
If you miss the early bargains, never fear. The odd cash cow will pop up later in the season, just like Srama, Bukuya and Sharks halfback Townsend did last year.
So who are the cash cows in 2012?
It's not spilling any big secrets to say that Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds will be in high demand amongst savvy Dream Team coaches this year. The rookie is expected to get a clear run in the No.7 jersey after the exit of Chris Sandow. Reynolds is priced at $77,100 – almost $200,000 cheaper than the man he's replacing – and is certain to get a big price boost if he gets regular game time.
In the next couple of weeks I'll point out some players to keep in mind when it comes to buying cash cows – they won't all pay off, but some are sure to be bargains this year.
In the meantime, check out the player list for yourself and start putting together your initial squad for 2012 – you can make unlimited trades until the season kicks off on March 1.
And don't forget to enter Toyota All Stars Dream Team. We could all do with the practice, and a free shot at five grand is nothing to sneeze at.