With the 2009 season looming large on the horizon, we’re sure many of you are nervously awaiting the kick-off of round one, whilst quietly panicking about squeezing your star recruits into your Toyota NRL Dream Team.
The salary cap is the X-factor that makes the Telstra Premiership the most competitive competition on the planet, but it’s also the constraint that dictates an annual shuffle of talent and causes selection dilemmas from the coach’s box to your study.
With that in mind NRL.com has taken a moment to run an educated eye over the field and identify the player at each club who has the X-factor.
They’re not yet super stars, nor are they your honest 80-minute-a-week workers. Rather our lads are the players blessed with freakish talent, but prone to an unfathomable lapse. They come to the toughest competition on the planet with big reputations, but are untested. They are brilliant in the main, but absent on occasion or prone to injury.
They could be the key to your Dream Team’s success or failure.
It’s all a matter of how long they can keep that ‘it’ quality going through the week-in, week-out slog that in the regular season.
Ben Te’o (Brisbane Broncos)
The former Wests Tigers hitman is on a two-year deal at the Broncos and will be looking to impress north of the border after shopping himself around last season.
Te’o went from hero to zero at the Tigers last season. His size and strength made him a potent attacking forward, but his defence was found wanting. If he rectifies this, he could be seen as a ready-made replacement for former tackling machine Tonie Carroll.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: At $145,400 Te’o looks to be a good investment. He is a hard-running forward who should get plenty of game time this year, in a Broncos pack that has lost some of its recent gloss. Te’o can also sniff out a try; his hit-rate is a healthy 10 scored from 38 career games.
Ben Roberts (Bulldogs)
Too often Roberts has been a player whose play goes from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. So, 2009 looms as a sink-or-swim year for the Kiwi half.
Star recruit Brett Kimmorley is a dead-cert as first-choice number 7, leaving Roberts battling Daniel Holdsworth and young gun Ben Barba for the 6.
Should he secure a place, the steadying hand of Kimmorley will help him produce his best more consistently.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: If he does play regularly Roberts is value in your Toyota NRL Dream Team and can be picked up at a price of $205,100. An international player who can lay on a try and break the line he is definitely worth consideration on your bench.
Terry Campese (Raiders)
Campese made a huge impact last season following the departure of Todd Carney, leaving many wondering why the nephew of ‘Campo’ wasn’t running the show all along. This year the Raiders really are his team to lead, but can he handle it when the weight of expectation is hanging heavy?
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Campese doesn’t come cheap. His massive second half of 2008 sees him topping the five-eighth’s price list at $294,400.
Sure to be in everything good that the Raiders conjure, he may yet prove value for money for your Toyota NRL Dream Team. He kicks goals at 82% and bagged 10 tries last year, not to mention he often breaks the line or gives line break assists which are worth two points each.
Willie Tonga (Cowboys)
Somewhat forgotten since playing for the Kangaroos way back when, a rebuilt Tonga renews acquaintances with one J. Thurston in 2009.
The prospect of regular, decent service may just revive Tonga’s interest in the game and revive a career which has been interrupted with injury over the last few years.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: When fit Tonga is an exciting player and a try-scoring machine. 2004 was his last uninterrupted season and he bagged 18 tries.
If he recaptures that form he is a definite Toyota NRL Dream Team value buy at a bargain price of $140,200.
Chris Bailey (Sea Eagles)
Bailey had a big year for the Knights in 2008. He showed his star qualities by racking up the points with a heavy defensive work-rate, scoring tries and making line breaks. His Dream Team numbers were so good the Sea Eagles signed him for 2009.
At the Sea Eagles Bailey looks destined to provide the alternative at pivot that will see Jamie Lyon freed to move to the centres.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: In a stronger Manly side his performances should be more consistent in ’09 and he may get more game time, meaning he is a definite option at five eighth at $195,400.
Will Chambers (Storm)
With Israel Folau gone the uber-talented centre gets his chance to finally show what all the fuss is about.
Chambers returns in 2009 having had a knee reconstruction, but pre-season form suggests it was a good op as he scored a try in his only trial game.
Chambers is reportedly heading elsewhere in 2010, so we wonder aloud if he will be truly committed, and if he’s injured or his form slips, will coach Bellamy persevere with someone who’s not around for a long time.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Valued at $166,500 in the Toyota NRL Dream Team, Chambers is a pure athlete who can score a try. If he gets a regular spot on the end of the Storm backline then he will score heavily in ‘09. He is also a handy goal kicker if he is ever called upon.
Jarrod Mullen (Knights)
Mullen is hot and cold. An Origin player in 2007, he can be brilliant, but that Origin form isn’t easy to recapture.
Playing alongside dynamos Kurt Gidley and Isaac de Gois he should be at the heart of all that is good for the Knights and should provide a lot of points. If not in form he could easily be dropped to reserve grade.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: At $256,500 Mullen isn’t cheap, but he will set up plenty of line breaks and rack up the points through kicking metres as the Knights first choice kicker. Halves score points and Mullen is the Knights No.1.
Krisnan Inu (Eels)
The Kiwi star had 2008 cruelled by injury and will be looking to get back on top in ’09, as will Parramatta. The Eels always looked better with Inu on the field and he is arguably their best attacking weapon.
But was he suffering a case of second-year syndrome in 2008 and does he get close to the action this year, now that Hayne has been earmarked as the go-to guy?
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: 19 tries and 52 goals in 36 career games screams points, as do running metres from kick returns. At $176,200, Inu is on the must-be-seriously-looked-at list for most Toyota NRL Dream Team coaches.
Lachlan Coote (Panthers)
Arguably the ‘find’ of last season’s Toyota Cup! Coote showed he had the required football brain and a good deal of flair in his short stint in the first grade.
2009 promises much for the Panthers’ next big thing and his attacking skills will be on show this year as the ready-made replacement for former crowd favourite Rhys Wesser.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Coote will eat up the kick return metres. Yet to cross the tryline in first grade, he was the second-ranked try scorer in last season’s Toyota Cup.
Valued at a meagre $113,500 he is a cheap centre-wing option in your Toyota NRL Dream Team.
Brett Kearney (Sharks)
In a team lacking the killer punch in 2008, Kearney stood out as the man most likely to instigate a change.
An attacking machine who combines pace with some light stepping he is the man who Trent Barrett should look to link-up with if the Sharks attack is to fire
He can go quiet during games and suffers his fair share of injuries, but should play when fit and able.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Kearney comes cheap at $129,700 and is worth serious consideration as your back-up half. He is an attacker who will break the line and score or set up a try.
Wendell Sailor (Dragons)
‘The Dell’ wants to make an impact now that he is fit and if he winds back the clock under former Broncos mentor Bennett it could be the story of the year.
Sailor still possesses a big vertical leap and is a big unit who’s hard to stop. If Jamie Soward or returning halfback Mathew Head get their kicking and passing right the Dragons could score a lot of points out wide.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: At a cost of just $122,200, ‘The Dell’ screams value. Four tries in eight games last season suggest he still has it when it comes to attack and his strength also means he will also take his share of hit-ups.
Luke Capewell (Rabbitohs)
Capewell's signing was a big deal to Rabbitohs fans at the time due to his performances at schoolboy level and with one eye on the future and one eye on their need to score points he could get plenty of opportunities from coach Jason Taylor.
Played out of position last year, Capewell showed he has talent scoring a couple of memorable tries. He has bulked up in the off-season and is the Rabbit’s likely back-up to Sutton at five eighth.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Capewell bagged seven tries in just eleven NRL games and looks like the real deal, but does he get a start in 2009? It’s unlikely, but the cheap price of $88,600, at halfback, means he’s a likely sort for your squad, who will provide security and value when the season starts to take its toll.
Anthony Minichiello (Roosters)
The former Aussie No.1 has suffered through the last couple of seasons with a back injury, but when he gets on the park, he is as good as it gets.
If he stays fit the Roosters are a genuine finals contender as Mini is a brilliant safety net and arguably the best kick returner in the game.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Valued at just $133,200, due to his injury-hit past, selecting Mini will get you one of the best fullbacks in the game, who eats up the metres on kick returns, is a solid defender and can break the line.
Stacey Jones (Warriors)
Is it folly or fortune for Jones as he comes out of retirement to lead everyone’s dark horse for the title?
If the Stacey Jones of old returns he could be the missing ingredient the Warriors so badly need. Jones is a legend with nothing to prove. Look out, that spells trouble for the opposition to us!
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: At $252,300 Jones is fairly pricey but Toyota NRL Dream Team coaches might want to risk a lot on the classy halfback. If they remember his deeds in previous NRL seasons they will know his kick metres will pay dividends in points as will his try and line break assists.
Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers)
The man from the UK comes with a massive wrap and looks to be the equal of any Englishman who has come here in recent times.
Talented with the ball, he is a fearsome defender; an area where the Tigers have been soft recently. Benji and co will be happy to have him here and he could help turn them into a consistent team.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Ellis looks the real deal and if he works hard Toyota NRL Dream Team coaches will reap the benefits of his tackling and ability to offload the ball for tempting price of just $217,300.
William Zillman (Titans)
Still a youngster, the boom fullback from the Raiders, is returning from two knee reconstructions. Have they slowed this speeding bullet?
If he gets back to the form he showed earlier on in his career he will be a strike weapon behind the likes of Scott Prince and Luke Bailey. But first he needs to get on the pitch and that won’t be easy with Prince, Rogers and Campbell up the pecking order.
Toyota NRL Dream Team Rating: Zillman could be Toyota NRL Dream Team value at just $129,700 and coaches would be wise to consider the speedster. He can score a try and has a habit of busting the line and making plenty of kick return metres, making him a valuable player.