The final weekend of Dream Team for 2013 has arrived, with the winner of Holden NRL Dream Team Finals to be decided after Sunday's NRL grand final. That means there's one final chance for you to get the edge over your mates and take out your own private league, or – for one lucky DT coach – to take out the $3000 top prize.
My basic rule for this week is: if you're at the top of your league, play it safe with a squad of proven performers. If you're chasing the leaders and need to a big score to steal the win, then take a few gambles.
We saw last week that gambles can pay off in Dream Team Finals. Roosters second-rower Aidan Guerra – who averaged an unspectacular 31.8 points a game during the regular season – produced a massive two-try, four line-break, nine tackle-break, 32-tackle effort against the Knights which earned him a massive 110 Dream Team points.
Don't expect lightning to strike twice (Guerra may even lose his place in the Roosters' side thanks to the likely return of Boyd Cordner) but it goes to show that just about anyone can have a massive game on any given day.
Hhere' s my rundown on some of the potential big scorers in all six positions for Sunday's decider between the Roosters and the Sea Eagles.
Jake Friend has the slight edge over Matt Ballin so far in the finals, thanks to his 64-point effort (which included a runaway try) against the Knights last week. But if the grand final is another low-scoring grind like the Roosters' 4-0 win over Manly in the first week of the finals, then the top-scoring hooker will probably be the busier defender. Traditionally that has been Ballin, who has made close to 50 tackles in all three of Manly's finals matches and was the top tackler in the entire NRL during the regular season.
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In-form Roosters hard man Jared Waerea-Hargeaves and hard-working Manly front-rower Brenton Lawrence are the obvious choices here, with fellow starters Brent Kite and Sam Moa the outside bets. Roosters bench prop Dylan Napa scored 40 last week and is a steal at just $100,900, but his place in the 17 could be in doubt with the likely returns of Cordner and Luke O'Donnell.
Anthony Watmough has averaged 57 points over Manly's three finals games, and Sonny Bill Williams is the top-priced back-rower still in Dream Team. They're the safe bets, but the third spot is wide open.
Mitchell Aubusson was the best performer of the rest in the regular season, but has had limited impact off the bench in the finals. Aidan Guerra was on fire last week but is no guarantee to keep his starting spot thanks to Cordner's return (keep an eye on the late mail for that one). Meanwhile Glenn Stewart has been a mixed bag in the finals, with scores of 60, 46, and 29.
Stewart did step up against the Roosters three weeks ago, with 42 tackles, six tackle breaks and 100+ run metres, and as a former Clive Churchill Medal winner he could be the man to live up to the big occasion again. Justin Horo, Jamie Buhrer and Frank-Paul Nuuausala are the riskier options.
Daly Cherry-Evans is the obvious choice here, as the most expensive player left in Dream Team. He averaged better than 56 points a game during the regular season and is a great all-round player, meaning he scores well in tight games through kick metres and tackles and scores just as well when Manly dominates, through tackle breaks and try assists. His dominance of Manly's long kicking and his knack for finding the tryline mean Cherry-Evans is much more suited to Dream Team than his halves partner Kieran Foran.
Of the Roosters playmakers, James Maloney has been the standout during the regular season but Mitchell Pearce's Dream Team scoring has stepped up significantly in the finals. Pearce easily out-scored Maloney in both of the Roosters' finals matches so far, posting 59 and 62 compared with Maloney's 42 and 49. The two mains advantages Pearce has had over Maloney is kick metres (he's doubled Maloney's total in their two finals matches) and missed tackles (Maloney has missed a dozen tackles over the two games, Pearce has only missed five).
So if you're predicting another low-scoring affair, then Pearce is probably your man. If you reckon the Roosters will score a few points, then Maloney – who has more tries and line breaks this season than Pearce and is the Roosters' goalkicker – is likely to have the edge.
It's hard to go against star duo Jamie Lyon and Michael Jennings, who both hit the high 50s in their teams' wins last weeks. Of the other options, Steve Matai is a lottery (his scores have ranged from 60 down to -6 this season), while Shaun Kenny-Dowall is a quality attacking threat but simply hasn't had Jennings' consistency this year. Dual-position player Mitch Aubusson is the wildcard, and he could trump Lyon and Jennings if defence dominates the contest.
Peta Hiku has been great for Manly of late but will again miss the cut thanks to Brett Stewart's return, and Stewart himself is a risky option as his strengths on the field don't really translate to Dream Team stats. Jorge Taufua is a tackle-busting machine on his day but at $207,000 he's pricey, while fellow wingers David Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou are all capable of decent scores on their day – particularly if they find their way to the tryline.
The lack of certainties in this position makes it the perfect place to make a couple of gambles, or at least save some cash which could be better spent elsewhere.
Captain & vice captain
This is where the game will really be won and lost in Dream Team this weekend. With only 34 players to choose from, expect most teams to have a familiar look to them – which is where the captaincy and vice captaincy choices come in. Remember, your captain gets triple points and your vice captain gets double, so the right choice here can really shoot your team up the ladder.
For those playing it safe, Cherry-Evans is probably the smart option, but Watmough, SBW, Ballin, Friend, Cordner, Pearce and Maloney are all capable of producing a bumper score in the grand final. Go with your gut on this one, and it could well earn you bragging rights – or a cool $3000.
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