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Dream Team is LIVE but are you ready for the 2010 season? Lone Scout, our resident Dream Team guru, walks you through the selection essentials.

Ah, the footy season… it’s right around the corner. Can you smell it? I can’t wait to scream and shout at every try and curse and yell at every missed tackle. And yep, that means it’s time for NRL Dream Team to kick off.

Folks, it’s time to start plotting!

For all of you returning players, welcome back; and for all you ‘newbies’ anxious to sink your teeth into the most frustrating, yet amazingly satisfying game involved in rugby league, it’s great to have you on board. (I guess that’s a whole heap more of you I need to keep ahead of on the leader board!)

Trust me, the 2010 NRL Dream Team comp is better than ever. We have tweaked a few selection rules to make things fairer and we are adding more resources to help you out during the season. As always, you will be able to email me for help and I will try to address the issues in my column but we’ll also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, plus live chats on during the season.

Okay, get a pen and make some notes:

While in 2009 you could select six front-rowers (three in the team, three on your bench), in 2010 you must select FOUR front-rowers and TWO hookers (two props, one hooker in both team and the bench). So for all you cagey players stacking your teams with 80-minute hookers, time to get back to the drawing board!
On the flip side, we've merged the halves. In 2009, you could select two halfbacks and two five-eighths (one in team, one in bench). In 2010, we've merged these so you now just select four 'halves' (two in team, two on bench).  Should be a godsend at Origin time.

So who will you be drafting into your 25-man squad? (Remember, you need to find a balance to stay under your $4.2million salary cap.) Where are the bargain buys of 2010 and who are the ‘gun’ players you just have to have?

Here are Lone Scout’s early thoughts:

It is no secret the best point-scorers on a consistent basis are workhorse forwards, guys who make 40-plus tackles and still run the ball, offload every so often and generally play mistake-free footy.

Spend your cash on two 80-minute hookers with skills and toughness – and if you are feeling really greedy, a goal-kicker can help. Melbourne’s Cameron Smith at $375,100 (averaged 55.18 points last year) and Wests Tiger Robbie Farah at $383,900 (avg 56.48) are the topweights in this position – and rightfully so. You should almost certainly buy at least one of these guys.

Another to seriously contemplate is Bulldog Michael Ennis (avg 39.09) at $265,700. This year he is likely to add goal-kicking to his repertoire, which should give him a nice boost in scoring. The bargain buys in this position are probably the Roosters’ James Aubusson (avg 22.78, $154,800) and Canberra’s Travis Waddell (avg 20.20, $137,300). These two guys should play a lot more minutes in 2010… although they won’t match up to the big guns. Play both hookers every week, one in the team and one as a reserve.

Make sure you fork out big on at least one of your props. Someone who plays long minutes and likes an offload. Your remaining guys will want to be consistent starters for their NRL club. The 2009 gun here was Ben Hannant from the Bulldogs (avg 47.31) and he looks a must-have – even at $321,600.

The next bookend to seriously consider is Luke Douglas (avg 43.13, $293,100) from the Sharks. He leads the way for Cronulla and rarely ever misses a game. Maybe then look to pick one of the old stagers who consistently performs. Warrior Steve Price (avg 39.93, $271,400), Panther Petero Civoniceva (avg 39.92, $271,300) and Titan Luke Bailey (avg 39.21, $266,500) are just three guys who defy their age and continue to post good numbers.

BUT, in saying that, if you look closely there are several AMAZING deals to be had amongst the prop forward ranks – so if you want to save cash and are prepared to take a little risk, here is your chance.

Former NRL stars Jason Cayless (Wests Tigers) and Jason Ryles (Roosters) have a price of just $120,300, as does Rabbitohs’ English superstar recruit Sam Burgess. Surely at least one is worth taking a punt on? Each of these have the potential to shoot up in value during the early rounds, hence bumping up your all-important salary cap.

Other potential bargain-basement buys at $91,100 are Melbourne’s Sione Kite (formerly Bulldog John), Panther Daine Laurie and Dragon Trent Merrin, while Merrin’s team-mate Michael Greenfield is just $84,100 after missing last season with injury.
Now, the bread-and-butter rewards come from your back-rowers. You need at least two guns here, but look to pick three of the Nathan Hindmarsh (avg 54.10, $367,700), David Stagg (avg 55.14, $374,800) mould. With six to pick all up, you need to add another regular starter who is getting solid points, otherwise you’ll be behind the eight ball. If you are a good scout with Nostradamus tendencies the second row is a great place to sniff out value buys for your last two picks. Value could come from Knight Corey Paterson ($118,600), Rooster Mitch Aubusson ($122,400) or Wests Tiger Liam Fulton ($120,300).
With four halves to pick, two of which will start, it is imperative you buy one out-and-out Dream Team star.

Last season Dragon Jamie Soward (avg 54.96, $373,600) scored more points over the season than any other player, making him the MVP. Whether you go for four halfbacks or four five-eighths or a mixture is up to you but remember: it’s the guys who can create for their team, kick long and often and who don’t miss too many tackles who are the key!

Canberra’s Terry Campese (avg 48.83, $331,900) generally produces the goods while Titan Scott Prince (42.27, $287,300), Storm half Cooper Cronk (avg 43.25, $294,000) and Rabbitoh John Sutton (avg 41.68, $283,000) were also consistent performers last season. Other potential cheap buys are Roosters duo Todd Carney ($120,300) and Ben Jones ($102,300) who may play outside the halves but pick up points.

I reckon you need two fullbacks: and while it’s smart to have one be a star, you can get away with a mid-range bench option. Newcastle’s Kurt Gidley (avg 31.65, $215,100) and Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne (avg 33.59, $$228,300) are the big guns but there is plenty of value to be had here. Bronco Denan Kemp ($91,100) could be a great pick-up if he grabs a first grade jersey. You can get plenty of quality for under $150,000 so if you need to sacrifice, this can be a good place to do so.

Select these seven players last once you get an idea of how much cash you have left. You will need to get smart here and try to pick up a centre who plays in the forwards, like Dragon Beau Scott ($231,800) or even two if you can afford it. Then take a punt on some out-and-out try-scorers who get involved in matches. You are going to have some ups and downs with these buys so you really need to do your homework.

Your benched outside backs need to be all bargain-basement buys, so be very careful to try to find the best options under $100,000 you can. Youngsters who could crack it in first grade throughout the year are the go, so read up on the teenagers at each club. Some to watch are Shark Jayson Bukuya ($84,100) and Melbourne’s Matthew Duffie (73,600).

So, I have given you a few pointers and dug out a few of the bargains – but there is no substitute for a little bit of research. Keep a keen eye on the NRL trials to get an understanding on which new players might be ready to burst onto the scene at good value… and also which former bench players are likely to become starters.

Don’t forget to email me if you have any questions.

Scouts’ honour!
Lone Scout
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