Lone Scout, NRL.com
Most of you have already started picking your Holden NRL Fantasy squad for the 2014 season (if you haven't, what are you waiting for? Get started now) but it's worth keeping in mind your overall strategy for the year before you lock in any selections.
The first question is, what are you playing for? To beat your buddies and win your head-to-head league, or to finish high up the overall ladder and be in the race for the big $20,000 prize?
It's possible to do both (yours truly was lucky enough to win a few thousands head-to-head leagues last year while also finishing in the top 100 overall) but there are two specific sets of tactics you can use to succeed, depending on your goal. Your season strategy should determine the make-up of your starting squad as well as how you use your trades during the year.
HEAD TO HEAD
If you're playing head-to-head, then it's worth keeping in mind how the season works. This year if you subscribe to Fantasy Coach you can modify your league how you want (whether to have more or less players, when the league should start, whether you play on bye weeks, etc) but here's how head-to-head leagues run under the default settings:
- 16 teams;
- Head-to-head games start in Round 4;
- No head-to-head matches will take place on the major pre-Origin bye weeks (Round 11, 14 and 17) when only eight NRL teams are playing;
- The top eight teams in your league will play off in a finals series starting in Round 22, and your league's grand final will take place in Round 25 (not Round 26 as in previous years). This means that if NRL teams rest their star players in the final round before the NRL finals, it won't affect your league grand final.
So, if head-to-head glory is your goal, the most important part of the season is the finals – just like in the real NRL. All you need to do in the first 21 weeks is win enough games to make the playoffs (although the higher you finish the better), and then it's all about having the strongest possible team in the knockout stages.
With head-to-head matches starting in Round 4 the first three rounds actually don't matter at all in terms of league positions, so use these early stages to make as much cash as possible. And don't worry if most of your team isn't available for the big bye rounds, as your league will take a break anyway for those weeks.
So the head-to-head strategy is to pick a lot of cash cows early on, make as much money as possible out of these players, ignore the bye weeks, and then spend big to ensure you have a star-studded squad come finals time. Keeping trades up your sleeve for the finals is crucial as well.
If you're playing for overall points, you need to hit the ground running. Your starting squad will be crucial, and needs to have a balance of high scorers that can keep you in contention from Round 1 and cash cows that can be used to improve your squad later on.
For overall points Fantasy coaches, there are really three stages of a season – the first part of the year when points are at a premium, the bye period where getting close to 17 players on the field each week becomes a priority, and the post-Origin period when you need to get your 'ultimate' team together as quickly as possible.
Keep each club's bye schedule at the back of your mind when choosing players for your squad (I've already summed up each club's bye schedule, with the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs, Titans and Tigers the teams that play on all three major bye weeks). Get a few non-Origin players from these clubs into your team, at least before Round 11. The bye detector that will be available in Fantasy Coach will help your planning as well.
For overall points, you'll want to use trades early to put together a high-scoring squad as quickly as possible, then save another bunch of trades for the dreaded bye period, with the final few trades to be used getting your ideal team together as soon as the byes finish. Save one or two trades for the last few rounds, but the winning teams tend to ride their luck for the home stretch.
So choose your strategy wisely before locking in your Fantasy squad for 2014. And if you haven't yet, start up a league in Holden NRL Fantasy Draft as well, and experience a whole new side to the best footy game around.
Start playing Holden NRL Fantasy now, get more hints and tips on my NRL.com page, or join in the Fantasy conversation on Twitter, Facebook or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.