It's crunch time in Holden NRL Fantasy
, and all your focus should be on getting your ultimate final team together for the run home to the end of the season. Head-to-head finals series are just around the corner and every point matters in the race for the overall points title (with $20,000 and a trip for two to the NRL Grand Final up for grabs for the champ).
Round 18 is the last week of the year in which Fantasy coaches need to put up with byes, but it's another big one with the star-studded Rabbitohs and Roosters out of action, along with the Cowboys, Dragons and any Origin player who fails to back up from Wednesday night. Here's my wrap-up of this week's Fantasy movers and shakers.
Bulldogs v Wests Tigers, Friday night at Brookvale
Sea Eagles: It's time to cash out Jack Littlejohn with Daly Cherry-Evans back in the side, with the back-up half having earned almost $130,000 in price rises this season. Jorge Taufua and James Hasson are also back this week, replacing Clinton Gutherson and Jayden Hodges. Beware of Hasson ($84,713) who is very cheap but has an average score of 12 this season, making him a likely candidate to be an auto emergency if he is in your squad. Jamie Buhrer ($313,635) continues to be a very solid performer in the back row, while Cherry Evans ($358,997) is likely to fall in price over the next week or two.
Tigers: Blake Austin has been named to replace Braith Anasta at five-eighth, while Mitchell Moses ($101,303) will get dual position status this week as a half/winger-fullback after reclaiming the No.1 jersey – although his 18 points on the weekend was nothing to write home about. Robbie Farah ($508,073) will probably get a price drop this week thanks to a big break even of 91, but the Blues hooker has been so good this year it's worth snapping him up as soon as you can.
Warriors v Eels, Saturday at Mt Smart Stadium
Warriors: Just one change to the Warriors' 17, with Sam Rapira dropping out due to a back injury, Suaia Matagi starting at prop in his place and Ben Matulino returning from knee surgery on the bench. If you're in the market for a star half this week Shaun Johnson ($395,559) fits the bill, while Simon Mannering ($378,934) is now the priciest centre and the fourth-most expensive back-rower in Fantasy.
Eels: Jarryd Hayne ($423,912) has been easily the best winger/fullback in NRL Fantasy this season, averaging more than 57 points per game, but the Eels have left him out of their side at this stage with Chris Sandow named at fullback instead. Keep an eye on the late mail to see if Hayne will be a late inclusion. Tim Mannah and Kenny Edwards are also out, with Fuifui Moimoi and Ken Sio named on the bench. Isaac De Gois ($193,226) has gained about $57,000 in value since his mid-season switch to the Eels and will continue rising for a few weeks yet.
Storm v Bulldogs, Saturday night at AAMI Park
Storm: Cooper Cronk has been left out of the side despite being set to make his comeback from a broken arm for Queensland on Wednesday night. The Storm's other Origin players have been named. Bryan Norrie will return at prop, bumping Jordan McLean to an extended bench alongside Tim Glasby and Joel Romelo. Cameron Smith ($444,952) will be a popular pick-up with the Origin period over but his break even of 78 suggests he'll be a little cheaper next week. Billy Slater ($372,656) is in great scoring form but costs almost $65,000 more than Greg Inglis – who has a better average but is on a bye this week. Dayne Weston ($81,405) probably won't get another run in the top grade this season but will still be a popular buy in Fantasy this week because of his outrageously low price tag.
Bulldogs: The Bulldogs' Blues trio are back, pushing Krisnan Inu back to the wing and Tony Williams and Josh Jackson (thankfully) back into the second row. There are plenty of names on the extended bench in case Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson or Josh Morris are hurt in Origin. James Graham ($350,828) continued his great form with 70 on the weekend, while Michael Ennis posted a one-off 81 thanks to a try, two try assists and 236 kick metres in the absence of the Bulldogs' Origin halves duo. He won't do that again, so stick to usual suspects Smith, Farah and McCullough if you're in the market for a gun No.9.
Titans v Raiders, Sunday afternoon at Cbus Super Stadium
Titans: The Titans are another team with a massive bench this week and three Origin players named to back up. Daniel Mortimer ($143,153) is cashing in big time with a $25,618 price rise this week and a break even of -8. He's again been named in the halves alongside Maurice Blair, with Albert Kelly again set to come off the bench. Mark Minichiello ($296,101) is averaging 64 points over the past three weeks since becoming the 80-minute man in the Titans pack.
Raiders: Brenko Lee ($130,588) will become a dual position centre/wing-fullback this week and has a break even of -7 if you're still hunting for a cash cow – although he is back in the centres with debutant Jeremy Hawkins and Sami Sauiluma on the wings in place of the injured Jack Wighton and the dumped Matt Allwood. Josh Papalii ($289,460) is averaging a tick over 50 across his past three games. Shaun Fensom ($410,460) will probably see his price drop this week but is a guaranteed keeper.
Sharks v Knights, Sunday afternoon at Remondis Stadium
Sharks: The return of Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis to the starting pack are the only changes for the Sharks. Cash cows Jacob Gagan ($132,879) and Fa'amanu Brown ($160,619) both enjoyed hefty price rises after starring in Cronulla's stunning comeback win over the Roosters, and they'll keep rising for the next few weeks. Gallen ($462,336) is in crazy Fantasy form and is a must-have if you can afford him.
Knights: Adam Clydsdale starts at hooker this week with Adam Cuthbertson returning to the side on the bench. State of Origin seems to have awoken something in Darius Boyd ($267,868), who reeled off his three best scores of the season in his last three games for the Knights. Half of his 42 tackle breaks for the season have come in his last four games.
Panthers v Broncos, Monday night at Sportingbet Stadium
Panthers: With Peter Wallace gone, Tyrone Peachey ($314,526) will get a run at five-eighth with Nigel Plum joining the bench. Josh Mansour ($369,664) remains very expensive but is just one of two winger/fullbacks in the NRL to average better than 50 points a game this year (Jarryd Hayne being the other). Yours truly picked a great time to snap up Jamal Idris ($279,320) last week ahead of his 77-point effort, while Matt Moylan ($276,512) was the star of the show for Penrith with a deserved 59 points including two try assists, a try and a try save. James Segeyaro ($382,335) played the full 80 but finished with just 34 points on the weekend, with a season-worst seven missed tackles, and is ready to be upgraded to the likes of Farah or Smith.
Broncos: Corey Parker ($351,027) and Andrew McCullough ($427,433) are back, but both have big break evens so will almost certainly be cheaper next week (McCullough needs about 100 to maintain his price). Jake Granville ($151,698) has been relegated to the extended bench but is still a hold for now with a break even of -23. Cheapie Dale Copley ($181,499) is the third-most popular Bronco amongst Fantasy coaches but needs to be cashed out now.