Lone Scout, NRL.com
Playing Holden NRL Fantasy isn't just about putting together a team of rugby league's best players. While this year's generous $6.2 million salary cap means you'll be able to fit a fair few stars into your starting squad, finding the right cash cows remains one of the most important keys to Fantasy success.
What's a cash cow? Essentially it's an undervalued player – someone who will grow in price during the season, allowing you to sell them down the track for a profit and spend that extra salary cap space on buying a team full of Fantasy superstars.
The key to spotting a good cash cow is finding a player who is almost guaranteed to score more points this year than he did last year. That obviously includes rookies, who are priced at the minimum $107,000 in NRL Fantasy at the start of the season, plus players who will get more game time this year than they did in 2013.
Here's a quick wrap-up of some the most popular cash cows this season. Will they all be success stories? No. Are there other cash cow options out there? Yes. But if you're in the market for some cheap players who can free up salary cap space now and give you more spending power later, then these guys aren't a bad place to start.
Luke Brooks (Tigers HLF, $184,500)
Some highly rated rookie halfbacks live up to the hype and quickly become fantasy superstars – with Daly Cherry-Evans and Adam Reynolds the best two recent examples. But some don't. Which group will Brooks fall into? His score of 53 in his only game for the Tigers last season blew his chances of starting as a genuine $107,000 cheapie this year but also showed what he's capable of, and you can expect him to be in a lot of NRL Fantasy teams come the start of the season.
Nathan Peats (Eels HOK, 2RF, $125,000)
Peats is a great example of a good player getting a better opportunity to shine this season then he did last time around. Playing at the Rabbitohs last season as a bench hooker/back-rower, Peats averaged a meagre 27 minutes a game – and that's including two 80-minute performances at lock. This season should be a different story as Peats begins his Eels career as one of the team's new stars, with the starting hooker role expected to be his. Peats's price is based on the fact he averaged about 17 points a game last season but that should climb towards 40 if he gets significant minutes in the middle of the park this year.
Ben Hunt (Broncos HLF, $166,500)
Hunt is another player set to benefit from a more significant on-field role this season. After playing the first half of 2013 as a bench player, Hunt is now Brisbane's first-choice halfback – meaning a guaranteed 80 minutes a game and a larger chunk of the general playmaking duties. That means kick metres, the occasional try assist, and more Fantasy points.
Mitch Cornish (Raiders HLF, $107,000)
Ricky Stuart is certain to make his stamp on the Raiders this season, and one of the first changes the new Canberra coach could bring in is a new halves combination. Regular half Josh McCrone played the final two games of 2013 at hooker and has been training there in the pre-season, opening the door for someone like Cornish – the star of the Raiders' under-20s team last year – to take over the halfback role. Terry Campese is likely to do the lion's share of the kicking in general play for Canberra, but even so a rookie halfback like Cornish is tough to ignore in Fantasy.
Luke Keary (Rabbitohs HLF, $107,000)
Keary is another young gun looking likely to get his chance in a starting halves spot this season. Souths coach Michael Maguire is apparently happy to split up established playmaking duo Adam Reynolds and John Sutton this year, with Sutton to move into the back row and Keary to come into the side in the 6 jersey. Keary only averaged 14.5 points a game in 2013 but played nine of his 10 games last year off the bench, so can expect at least a slight price rise if he gets a starting spot this season.
Jason King (Sea Eagles FRF, $133,100)
On the other end of the age scale is Jason King, who's hardly a rookie but could nevertheless be one of the best buys of the year. The veteran Manly prop played just four games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, hence his low price at the start of the new season. But with King returning to full fitness and Manly short on experienced front-rowers (forwards Brent Kite, George Rose, Joe Galuvao and recently Richie Fa'aoso have all departed since the end of last season), King should get a significant increase in minutes this year...
Jake Trbojevich (Sea Eagles FRF, $107,000)
...Unless a young gun like Jake Trbojevich gets those minutes in the Manly front row instead. The former Junior Kangaroos star is one of the game's hottest young properties and could get his chance sooner rather than later thanks to the Sea Eagles' front-row exodus.
Josh Starling (Sea Eagles FRF, $107,000)
Have I mentioned Manly's front row yet? Former Rabbitoh Starling is yet another cheapie in the running for a first-grade spot, and is just as likely as King and Trbojevich to become a great cash cow. Keep a close eye on Geoff Toovey's Round 1 team list.
Remi Casty (Roosters FRF, $155,000)
Highly-rated France international who reunites with Roosters coach Trent Robinson after playing under Robinson for the Catalans Dragons a couple of years ago. The number of minutes he'll get in a strong Roosters pack is a mystery, but he comes cheap for an established player.
Cory Paterson (Tigers 2RF, $107,000)
Former Knights and Cowboys back-rower Paterson has returned to the NRL after a stint in the Super League, adding some experience to the Wests Tigers pack. He starts at a bargain basement price and his chances of getting good game time have improved after fellow Tigers recruit Dene Halatau was ruled out for about four months with a broken ankle.
Willie Tonga (Eels CTR, $107,000)
After a very disappointing season in 2013, former Australian Test centre Willie Tonga has been given a rookie price. He's not guaranteed a starting spot with young guns like Will Hopoate and Jacob Loko at the Eels, but if he gets minutes and lifts his game Tonga should see some price rises.
Kyle Stanley (Dragons CTR, HLF, $124,000)
Stanley is in the running for one of the starting centre spots at the Dragons this season, and boasts a lot of talent, a low price tag, and dual position status as a half/centre.
Curtis Rona (Cowboys WFB, CTR, $107,000)
Rona started on the wing in North Queensland's opening trial win against the Broncos and is tipped to keep that spot once the season proper begins, particularly after the recent sacking of fellow wide man Wayne Ulugia. Wingers are rarely reliable scorers in fantasy but if Rona can string a few try-scoring performances together he could see some handy price rises early in the season.
Matt Duffie (Storm WFB, $107,000)
After undergoing knee and shoulder surgery last season, high-flying Melbourne winger Duffie returned to action in the Storm's trial against Canberra. He's not short on competition for places on the Storm flanks, with Sisa Waqa and Mahe Fonua both at the club, but if he gets his chance he'll be good value like any other $107,000 player.
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