Lone Scout: The Late Mail

They're calling this the 'round of the season'... and that certainly rings true in Dream Teams terms.<br><br>The heavy-weights will be enjoying a week away from the head-to-head clashes after preliminary league wins last week, but there'll be no respite with the race for overall honours hitting top speed.<br><br>The points difference between the top 10 teams is minimal... and all have a legitimate shot at the brand new Toyota (or two!).<br><br>The current pace-setters, The Rabbitohs, are 40 points clear of the field... but they were pegged back 15 points last week so they're no certainties to take the chocolates.<br><br>Interestingly (though perhaps not surprisingly) there's huge correlations between the elite teams.<br><br>Each of the teams in the top five rankings have both Jamie Soward and Scott Porter as their halfbacks. All five also have Terry Campese as their five-eighth.<br><br>Robbie Farah, Nathan Hindmarsh and David Stagg are starters in all five as well.<br><br>They might be out of your league this season, but I'd suggest running your eyes over the best of the best to identify the team structures which are most successful. <br><br>Have the coaches gone for depth? Have they stacked their forwards and gone light on backs? Have they opted for backs playing in the forwards (like Simon Mannering) or genuine backs who are ripping teams apart (like Jarryd Hayne)? Each of these questions will be crucial as you build your team for the 2010 season... and it's never too early to start researching selection strategies.<br><br>To browse all this information, click on 'Ranking' in the Dream Team menu.<br><br>But first things first... on with the Late Mail!<br><b><br>Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels</b><br><br>Tigers: There are some question marks surrounding the fitness of big Keith Galloway who is battling a hand injury. He's still expected to play, but be aware that the Tigers have had human wrecking-ball Daine Laurie and workhorse Dene Halatau training with the team on standby.<br><br>Eels: It's no secret that Feleti Mateo is back in the frame, but don't get too excited. Daniel Anderson has included him on an extended bench and, after a long spell on sidelines, will not risk him in a starting jersey - particularly while the Eels are firing. Look for him to come on as an impact player, pure and simple. He's not a Dream Team option this week.<br><br><b>St George Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos</b><br><br>Dragons: Good news, Dragons fans. Matt Cooper is back. No late withdrawals this time, we're being told this is the real deal. He's a strong centre option so if he's in your squad, inject him this week.<br><br>The news isn't so good for Neville Costigan. He'll miss the match-up against his former club, meaning Jeremy Smith should start at lock. Expect big numbers from Smith here.<br><br>Jon Greene and Jason Nightingale look like the men Bennett will drop from his extended bench.<br><br>Broncos: To the 24% of Dream Team coaches who have Alex Glenn in their squads... I hope you have some trades left! Brisbane's Mr Fix-it is out with an ankle injury. Ivan Henjak is still undecided on his replacement... but there's some strong mail that Dave Taylor will become the universe's biggest centre in a risky ploy to out-muscle the Dragons out wide.<br><br>Guy Williams and Steve Michaels are the other options.<br><b><br>Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys</b><br><br>Knights: It seems the short turn-around after the Knights' impressive win over the Storm on Monday night could be costly. Both wingers (Keith Lulia and Cooper Vuna) are battling injuries, while Danny Wicks and Steve Simpson are also in doubt.<br><br>Should either of those forwards fail their fitness tests, we're expecting Cory Paterson to get the call up.<br><br>Cowboys: Should be as named, but there are some small question marks around centre Willie Tonga following his sickening head clash last week. If you have him, he's worth playing... but at least consider a second option.<br><br>Keep in mind that Steve Rapira hasn't travelled. He's about a 0% chance of playing. If you want to take those odds, feel free.<br><br><b>Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs</b><br><br>Panthers: Luke Lewis is still battling the hip injury which plagued him against the Broncos. He's such a tough dude, he'll start the game regardless. But be aware that his numbers may be down.<br><br>Brad Tighe looks to have overcome a knee injury and should play. This would leave Adam Woolnough and Tim Grant to slide off the bench.<br><br>Rabbitohs: Ouch. Just a week after losing prop Roy Asotasi for the season, the Bunnies have copped a quadruple blow. Michael Crocker, Craig Wing, Beau Champion and Fetuli Talanoa will all miss this match... and have quite possibly played their last games of 2009.<br><br>Wing is hoping to return in Round 26, but I'll believe it when I see it.<br><br>If you have any of these boys, make the trade.<br><br>The flipside of this, for Dream teamers at least, is that the likes of Luke Stuart, Eddy Pettybourne, Issac Luke and David Fa'alogo should step up and assume more of the workload. Look for big numbers here.<br><br><b>Gold Coast Titans v Cronulla Sharks</b><br><br>Titans: The William Zillman ban has left John Cartwright with some significant headaches. While you'd expect he'd be replaced by Preston Campbell, little Preso is also struggling with various injuries and could be a no-show. Our mail is that Brenton Bowen could start in the No.1 jersey, with Mat Rogers moving back to five-eighth and Esi Tonga to centre. Keep in mind Rogers' shuffle in-field should assist his numbers - especially considering he's playing the Sharks. Plenty of touches, plenty of try-assists. <br><br>Sharks: Should be as per program.<br><br><b>New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders</b><br><br>Warriors: No major injury concerns to note, but don't rule out Ivan Cleary making some late changes. You should also note that Steve Price makes his return this week - and he'll need a massive game to lift this team.<br><br>Raiders: The bad news? Prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is out with a hamstring injury. The good news? Prop Dave Shillington could be a late inclusion. Once again, Joel Monaghan has been named but will need to pass a fitness test on a dodgy knee.<br><br><b>Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles</b><br><br>Storm: Still reeling without Greg Inglis, but otherwise should be as named.<br><br>Sea Eagles: Will Brett Stewart play? Don't rule it out. Of course, this shouldn't affect your Dream Team. If you've kept him in your squad all this time, you're about as savvy as Darius Boyd in front of a camera.<br><br>Steve Matai is carrying an injury. OK, I'm making that up. But it is so astounding that his name hasn't come up in our late mail... I just can't believe he's saying he's 100% fit. He'll probably come down with malaria or polio or something so don't risk him.<br><br><b>Bulldogs v Roosters</b><br><br>Bulldogs: We're being told Jarrad Hickey will back up after his horrific concussion against the Cowboys, but he can't be feeling 100%. As for Luke Patten, he's set for a return. Michael Hodgson is battling a calf problem. He'll have to pass a fitness test... by no means a certainty.<br><br>Roosters: Should be as per program.<br><br>If I could give you one tip at this late stage of the season... it would be this. Select your captain carefully.<br><br>With winning margins tighter than ever and trades at a minimum... captaincy selection is proving crucial, and could quite simply make or break your season.<br><br>Interestingly, two of the main contenders, Jamie Soward and Cam Smith, have been off the boil. Both scored less than 50 last week, and that's just not captaincy material at this stage of the season.<br><br>On the other side of the equation, consistent performers like Robbie Farah and David Stagg have kept the points ticking over.<br><br>Which presents the obvious question... do you gamble on brilliance (eg. Soward) or do you play the safe option (eg. Farah - he hasn't scored less than 50 since round 5!)<br><br>I'll leave it to you to do your research and weigh up the pros and cons - but for what it's worth... I'll be riding Soward against the Broncos like my 100-1 sweep pick in the home straight of the Melbourne Cup.<br><br>Good luck and good coaching!<br><br>Scouts honour,<br>Lone Scout