At last it's here, the NRL Grand Final, with the league's best two teams Melbourne and the Bulldogs fighting it out for the game's grandest prize.
And they won't be the only winners on Sunday night, with a $500 weekly prize and a big $3000 overall prize up for grabs in Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals.
Think you're out of the running for a prize? Think again. Last week's winner had been ranked 30,630th (out of 33,476) the week before, yet picked a 13-man lineup that won him half a grand. There's no reason someone can't sign up right now and do the same thing this week.
Even the overall race isn't as clear cut as it looks. The team now running fifth overall in Finals Dream Team wasn't in the top 3,500 a week ago. With just one game to go it's still possible for anything to happen. The battle for mini-leagues is just as fierce.
It's true that having just two clubs to pick from means a lot of Dream Teams will look fairly similar this week, with the likes of Cameron Smith, Ben Barba, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and James Graham sure to be popular selections.
But that doesn't mean you're out of the race if you're not at the top of your league. What it does mean is that your choice of captains will be crucial this week, with your skipper earning triple points and your vice captain double. Getting the right two players in those positions will give you a massive chance of taking out the weekly $500 prize or winning your private league.
So what are you looking for in a captain and vice captain? Not just good players – you want somebody who will score at least 60 Dream Team points in the grand final, and preferably closer to 80.
The lower down your ladder you are, the bigger the risk you'll need to take. So if you expect the league leaders to take the simple option and give the captaincy to Cameron Smith, you'll need to get more creative and pick somebody else. Those who took a gamble on Billy Slater last week were laughing all the way to the bank when the Storm No.1 posted a massive 100 points, while Smith scored just 43.
Below is a quick rundown on the big captaincy contenders from both lineups this Sunday. Before I get to them, a quick point – lockout this week won't be until 5pm on Sunday afternoon, so you can double-check the final Grand Final lineups before finalising your team.
BULLDOGS CAPTAINCY CONTENDERS
Ben Barba – His highest Dream Team score this season is 99, which actually came against the Storm back in Round 16. Barba – who leads the NRL for tries, line breaks and tackle breaks in 2012 – has posted seven scores above 65 this season. If you're confident Barba will score a try and make a couple of line breaks, get on board.
Josh Reynolds – The 'Dogs playmaker has a highest score of 88 (against the Eels) and four scores above 60. Tackle breaks and try assists are the key for Reynolds' scores.
James Graham – Graham's a rock solid front-rower and a very consistent scorer, but he's unlikely to get you that monster score you want from a captain. 65 is his top score of the year and that was one of just two times he's passed the 60-point mark. Both those scores came from his two busiest defensive games of the year.
Aiden Tolman – See Graham. A rock-solid scorer, but has only scored 60 or better on two occasions in 2012.
Krisnan Inu – Despite a great try-scoring run since his arrival at the Bulldogs in Round 12, Inu has only got past the 60-point mark once.
Josh Morris – A dark horse. He had a very quiet end to the regular season, but has two hat-tricks and a couple of 79-pointers to his name in 2012. If he causes trouble for Melbourne's wide defenders he could post another big one (or then again he might just score another 30).
Greg Eastwood – Last week's 59-point effort came completely out of the blue, with Eastwood's try and two try assists equalling his previous tally for the entire season. Don't get carried away expecting him to do it again.
STORM CAPTAINCY CONTENDERS
Cameron Smith – The 2012 Dream Team player of the year, Smith has passed 60 points a staggering 17 times in 2012. In fact, he's only scored less than 55 on three occasions. If you're on top in your league or are keen to play it safe this week, make him your captain. If not, pick somebody else as skipper and hope that Smith has another quiet one.
Cooper Cronk – Has nine scores above 60 and six above 70 this season, including last week's 73. Leads the NRL for kick metres, provides plenty of try assists, and isn't afraid to run himself when the opportunity arises. Another excellent option.
Billy Slater – Can he go back-to-back? Slater was on fire against Manly last week with a couple of tries, two try assists, 10 tackle breaks and 200 run metres. His 100-point effort was his fifth score above 60 and his third above 85. Consider him if you're backing Melbourne for a big win on Sunday.
Ryan Hoffman – Has four 60+ scores, including a 71 in the first week of the finals. Like the 'Big Three', he's a proven big game player.
Gareth Widdop – Has cleared 60 three times. Like Josh Reynolds, he'll need a big game in attack (read tackle breaks and try assists) to score big.
Of course, there's also every chance of a winger from one of the teams running in a hat-trick and scoring big, but for your best bet I'd be making a couple of these players your captain and vice captain.
Good luck with your choice.
The debate around potential changes to Dream Team in 2013 has continued this week. There's still plenty of conjecture about things like a rolling lockout (while it would address the issue of late team changes it would mean people who are busy over the weekend could be disadvantaged, while some DT coaches simply don't want to have to worry about Dream Team over the weekend). On the other hand there's general agreement for the need of some changes, like dropping the value of tackle breaks down from three points to two.
I tend to think the scoring should remain relatively stable next season after the significant changes that were brought in this year, meaning tackle breaks drop down in value and a few other stats (tries, try assists, line breaks, line break assists) go up in order to balance out that tackle break drop. A drop in value for tackle breaks alone would mean attacking players would lose much of their appeal – Dally M winner Ben Barba's average score would have dropped from 50.7 a game down to 43.7 if tackle breaks were only worth two points this year. Greg Inglis's average score would have dropped from 50.8 to 43.5. That would have meant two of the NRL's standout players in 2012 were less valuable in Dream Team than guys like Eels hooker Matthew Keating and Souths five-eighth John Sutton (and that's no disrespect to Keating and Sutton).
I'd be happy for try-saving tackles to come in as a scoring factor if possible, and for ineffective tackles and one-on-one tackles to drop out altogether in order to keep things (relatively) simple.
If all goes well, you should be able to see what – if any – changes have been introduced to the greatest fantasy game of all early next year when the NRL All Stars game swings around again.
Until then, enjoy what should be a cracker of a grand final and thanks again for being involved in Dream Team this year.
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