With the mid-season bye period just three weeks away, here are this week's key ins and outs for Holden NRL Fantasy heading into Round 9. Remember, regular head-to-head Fantasy leagues will go on hiatus in the major bye rounds (Rounds 11, 14 and 17) but those weeks will still count towards your overall Fantasy rank. If you're aiming to finish high up the overall points ladder, it's time to be planning for the bye rounds.
Roosters v Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on Friday night
Roosters: James Maloney ($289,747) is a surprise inclusion after a quick recovery from a shoulder injury, meaning Daniel Mortimer ($84,910) remains on the extended bench rather than getting his chance in the halves. Michael Jennings ($281,131) has also been named despite doubts over an ankle injury. French prop Remi Casty ($155,000) is set to get his first chance in the NRL after being included on the bench in jersey 17, although Mortimer and Dylan Napa are waiting in the wings and could be late inclusions. Jake Friend ($354,689) hit 54 last round and should keep playing the full 80 at hooker while Mortimer isn't on the bench, while Sonny Bill Williams ($319,797) needs to start hitting some 50s to live up to his price tag. The Roosters' bye schedule means he's a hold for Fantasy teams aiming at overall points but it must be tempting to sell him if you're playing to win your head-to-head league.
Tigers: Blake Austin ($187,492) returns at five-eighth in place of the injured Braith Anasta, who should be back next week. Austin ($187,492) is still growing in price but there are better cash cow options out there if he's not in your squad. Tackle-busting centre Tim Simona ($262,118) is out through suspension, with Keith Lulia replacing him at centre, Liam Fulton ($252,363) back in the starting side and Cory Paterson ($116,230) popping up again on the bench. Robbie Farah trained with the Tigers on Monday and is on track to play for the Blues in State of Origin I, but the Wests skipper and Fantasy superstar won't play this week. Aaron Woods ($351,699) is one of the leading props in Fantasy this year but will miss at least five games over the Origin period if selected by NSW.
Cowboys v Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium on Friday night
Cowboys: Two changes this week with bench hooker Cameron King and back-rower Gavin Cooper replacing Anthony Mitchell and Joel Riethmuller respectively. In the past three weeks Johnathan Thurston ($368,646) has reeled off Fantasy scores of 59 and 71 and then picked up a Man of the Match award for the Kangaroos against New Zealand. He's obviously a superstar but his scores do tend to trail off over Origin, so think twice before snapping him up. Cash cow Curtis Rona ($137,646) looks set to hold his spot on the wing for now and could get a couple of games at centre for the bye rounds when Brent Tate is away on Queensland duty. Jason Taumalolo ($286,400) remains a hold after scores of 50 and 45 in the past couple of games, and overall points players should hold him until after Round 11 with the Cowboys one of just 10 teams in action that week.
Broncos: "Ben Hunt ($406,173) is the most expensive half in NRL Fantasy" is not a sentence I thought I'd be writing this season, but he's a genuine keeper on current form. In Brisbane team changes, Ben Hannant has been dropped for David Hala, while Josh Hoffman's return means Justin Hodges goes back to centre and Dale Copley returns to the wing, with Lachlan Maranta dropping out. Andrew McCullough ($466,558) scored 82 at last start but there is some chance his minutes could drop with fellow dummy-half Jake Granville on the bench – Granville made a cameo in Round 8 with McCullough playing almost the full game, but considering McCullough's massive defensive workload this season Anthony Griffin could opt to start giving him longer rests. Corey Parker ($389,938) paid back the faithful with 60 points in Round 8 – his price has just about bottomed out so he's worth holding if you still have him, and he's worth buying soon if you don't.
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Warriors v Raiders at Eden Park on Saturday
Warriors: Konrad Hurrell will start at centre this week despite some off-field controversy, with Ngani Laumape replacing the injured David Fusitu'a on the wing. Thomas Leuluai's groin injury means Chad Townsend keeps his spot at five-eighth. Meanwhile Sione Lousi and Ben Matulino are back from suspension, recent Kiwis international Siliva Havili drops out and Kevin Locke is a slight chance of getting his first NRL action for 2014 after being named 18th man. Shaun Johnson ($388,798) is probably the form half in the competition at the moment – in Fantasy scoring at least – and is looking a great buy for head-to-head players. The Warriors will miss two of the three major bye rounds which means they won't be popular with overall points coaches, but they will be available for every head-to-head Fantasy round. Simon Mannering ($294,305) has lifted his average up to close to 40 and looks like an increasingly solid option in the tricky centre position.
Raiders: Shannon Boyd is out with a sternum injury, with Kyle O'Donnell joining a star-studded bench that features Test forwards David Shillington and Josh Papalii. Hard-working forward Paul Vaughan and man mountain Dane Tilse have earned starting berths this week. With yo-yoing scores, Anthony Milford ($275,933) is going to be a frustrating player to own this season, but he can tear teams apart on his day and should start finding the tryline more often – he's only scored twice in eight games so far this year after grabbing nine tries in 18 games in 2013, despite many of those appearances coming off the bench. I'm keeping him for now. Shaun Fensom ($428,390) has a break even of 65 this week so should get a little cheaper in the next week or two. Cash cow Jack Wighton ($239,973) remains a solid scorer in the outside backs and will peak in a few weeks.
Titans v Rabbitohs at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday
Titans: A few surprises this week from the Gold Coast, who have named halves Aidan Sezer ($326,776) and Albert Kelly ($320,794) despite strong injury doubts, while William Zillman ($186,015) makes his return in the centres with the in-form David Mead ($267,530) keeping the fullback spot, and hooker Matt Srama ($233,800) getting a run on the bench. The Titans aren't particularly Fantasy-relevant at the moment – Sezer and Kelly could be handy over the bye rounds for overall points, but only if fit, while Origin forwards Greg Bird and Nate Myles will sit out at least five rounds between Round 11 and Round 17.
Rabbitohs: Round 8 was a good week for the usual suspects at Souths, with Greg Inglis ($364,089), Adam Reynolds ($345,504) and George Burgess ($359,888) all hitting scores in the high 70s, while Apisai Koroisau made another 53 points and another $19,519 in cash. They've got an unchanged 17 this week. Reynolds is a tempting buy – particularly for overall points players – due to the Rabbitohs' great buy schedule, but it all depends on how much he shares the kicking workload with John Sutton. In Round 8 his boot dominated proceedings and he scored big, but in the two weeks before that Sutton did most of the kicking and Reynolds failed to crack 40 points. Alex Johnston ($117,209) has kept Nathan Merritt out of the side and looks like a solid cash cow after scoring 38 on debut. Even if Merritt gets back in favour Johnston should keep a wing spot on all three pre-Origin rounds with Merritt likely to replace Greg Inglis at fullback.
Storm v Sea Eagles at AAMI park on Saturday night
Storm: Will Chambers is back from suspension and replaces the injured Justin O'Neill at centre. Jesse Bromwich ($370,640) has been one of the big improvers of 2014, averaging 56 points a game over the past five rounds and 58 over the past three. He's already made $65,340 in price rises this season and hasn't peaked yet. Coming off his 80 in Round 8, Fantasy king Cameron Smith has pushed his average past 70 and his price past $500,000.
Sea Eagles: Jamie Lyon (knee) and Glenn Stewart (ankle) join Kieran Foran on the injured list, with David Williams joining the backline, Jamie Buhrer ($203,300) starting at lock and James Hasson on the bench. Daly Cherry-Evans ($360,956) is in doubt with a calf injury. Jack Littlejohn ($122,55) scored 47 in Manly's romp over Canberra but is only likely to get two more games in first grade before Kieran Foran returns in Round 12 (Manly have a bye in Round 11). Buhrer could be good value in the back row until Stewart returns in Round 13 or 14 but is only a short-term prospect.
Knights v Panthers at Hunter Stadium on Sunday
Knights: NSW under-20s star Jake Mamo makes way for the returning Akuila Uate on the wing, with Matt Hilder getting his first game time of the year in place of Zane Tetevano, who has been stood down. Korbin Sims is named on the bench but could miss out pending a judiciary decision on Wednesday night. It's still early days but Jarrod Mullen ($386,021) could be the most consistent half in NRL Fantasy this year, with a 56-point average after three games thanks to a stack of kick metres. He's an outside chance of NSW selection and he doesn't have a good bye schedule for overall points, but for head-to-head Fantasy coaches he looks like a good buy.
Panthers: Elijah Taylor ($292,952) is out for a month with a knee injury and Tim Grant will miss a few weeks with a calf injury, with Sam McKendry and Matt Robinson joining the side on the bench and Tyrone Peachey starting in the back row. Jamal Idris ($298,862) and Josh Mansour ($324,355) are two of the few outside backs available in Fantasy who are consistently hitting 40s.
Dragons v Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Sunday
Dragons: Michael Witt ($189,913) has been bumped out of the side by Sam Williams ($262,916), who may also have a fight on his hands to keep his spot if the Dragons sign a certain former Kiwis star. In any case it's not a great sign for Witt owners, who may need to cash him out earlier than planned. Jason Nightingale will miss a few weeks with a knee injury, with Nathan Green replacing him on the wing, Joel Thompson moving into the centres, Bronson Harrison starting in the second row and Leeson Ah Mau joining the bench.
Bulldogs: Tim Lafai ($292,780) returns to the centres in place of young gun Moses Mbye in the Bulldogs' only change. Lafai's excellent scoring this season (averaging 46 points a game) and the Bulldogs' ideal bye schedule make him an attractive option for the Origin period for Fantasy coaches aiming at overall points. Josh Jackson ($275,577) has become an 80-minute player in the Dogs' past couple of games since Frank Pritchard's injury, hitting scores of 62 and 48 after averaging just 32 over the previous six rounds.
Eels v Sharks at Pirtek Stadium on Monday night
Eels: Mitchell Allgood returns from concussion and bumps Taniela Lasalo off the bench, with Darcy Lussick and cash cow Pauli Pauli ($138,785) named to start in place of Fuifui Moimoi and David Gower. Jarryd Hayne ($371,281) has been named despite a shoulder injury, while Nathan Peats ($300,357) has also been battling a leg injury. Both missed the rep round but are tipped to play. Manu Ma'u ($288,608) still has a little bit of cash to make after scoring 53 in Round 8, while Will Hopoate ($196,607) and Willie Tonga ($162,070) have probably peaked.
Sharks: Luke Lewis ($287,000) is back for the first time in 2014 after recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered at the World Cup, and replaces the injured Todd Carney (hamstring) at five-eighth. Michael Gordon and Wade Graham missed the rep round through injury but have been named. Andrew Fifita ($444,483) is a Fantasy monster but has a bad bye schedule (he'll miss three games in four weeks between Round 11 and 14) while Tinirau Arona ($262,759) has peaked.
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