Crunch! Like a Mose Masoe bell-ringer up and under the ribcage, I’ll guess the majority of us were smashed by injuries last week. The pure agony of Dream Team came to the fore as we all mulled over late mail injuries. Then, in Round 22 games, we were further damaged as the big names took a hit. Consequently it leaves many of us facing a massive quandary.<br><br>It is finals week for head-to-head competitors, which means potential elimination; then from next week on, it is sudden death.<br> <br>And it is home stretch time for the Toyota, so you really need to get it right these next few weeks if you are to be strapping yourself into the driver’s seat. <br><br>Most high-scoring teams have stacked their sides by now; they might have only a few (if any) trades left as insurance. You’re one of the lucky ones if you have a little bit of depth – but no-one wants to be dropping their average scores when it’s time to go for gold.<br><br>So now it becomes all about strategic trades, because you can’t even really afford to carry a two-week injury unless you have great cover. (Or unless you are a top seed in your league and feel you can get an easy win this week and get the next week off.) With only a two-trade maximum this week, chances are they will be forced trades.<br><br>Wow – Okay, take a breath and perhaps a few anti-anxiety pills. I am going to highlight just some of the potential issues you face coming into this all-important round… which will probably separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the champions from the chumps.<br><br>Ben Lowe, a Dream Team icon this year for your outside backs, breaks his foot and is out for the year. This forces a trade – but at least it gives you plenty of cash to work with. Lowe is at $251,700. You could go for a somewhat ‘straight swap’ – for a player at similar value – or you could look for some value and use the rest of the money bolstering another position. <br><br>Straight swap options include Jarryd Hayne ($254,000, yes you need a small bank of cash), Nathan Smith ($248,500), Luke Lewis ($243,800) and Mitch Aubusson ($238,000). But here’s the deal – Lowe averaged 41 points; none of the others are that high.<br><br>Smith is good for about 30 points, unless he starts – and this is unlikely for the rest of the season. Lewis is probably the most reliable at a 34 average, because Aubusson (36) has moved to the centres, which might drop his workload. Plus, he still might not play.<br><br>Hayne is the wildcard. He is pretty solid for around the low 30s but also can spring a 60. With Parra’s season on the edge he could explode, or diminish, depending on how they go this weekend. <br><br>Which brings us to the lower-priced players. If we figure we take a small hit points-wise in this category, aim for 30s and then make up the difference by getting a better second-rower or prop/hooker, we can then look at a few other names. Beau Scott ($216,700) is a second-rower now and will hit 30s. And Mat Rogers ($214,400) at five-eighth should also keep him around that mark. <br><br>If you think the Raiders are on a roll to the finals, Jarrod Croker ($188,800) is goal-kicking these days and could return in the 30s as a result, similar to Michael Gordon ($183,200). <br><br>If you rate Mark Gasnier’s ($171,400) slow improvement, he is potential value (though he is in doubt this week with the flu). But perhaps a real value buy is Brent Tate ($153,700). While he has been erratic all year and also a little injury-prone throughout his career, he has two near-40s in his past three starts as the Warriors gun for the finals. He is an offload king and if he eliminated errors and some missed tackles, he could be the type of risk/reward you are looking for. Plus, this trade would give you a $98,000 bonus to spend elsewhere.<br><br>John Sutton, a reliable scorer most weeks, is now gone after his shoulder injury. He’s a must-trade as well, also with some handy coin. Sutton’s value is $268,600 and you might have him as a second-rower of half. If you have him in the halves and don’t have another gun, you need one. If you have the cash, upgrade to Jamie Soward ($331,600), Scott Prince ($303,000), Todd Carney ($301,300) or Terry Campese ($275,100). <br><br>Warrior James Maloney is also good in the straight swap department at $249,500, while Cooper Cronk pumps out around the 40s and is priced at $230,500. Money savers and possible big scorers might be Mitchell Pearce ($216,000) and Peter Wallace ($201,700) who will take on more responsibility in Lockyer’s (likely) absence.<br><br>As a back-rower your options are different when it comes to trading out Sutton. If you have spare cash, by all means make an upgrade to one of the 50-plus club in Paul Gallen ($370,300), Corey Parker ($359,000), Nathan Hindmarsh ($335,800) or David Stagg ($332,100). But also remember Jamal Idris is back in the second row this week, so Stagg might not play 80 minutes (although Hannant's injury could adjust Kevin Moore's game plan - how complicated this Dream Team caper can become!). <br><br>Anthony Laffranchi ($312,300) and Liam Fulton ($295,500) are also solid buys here if you can afford them. If you are looking to go under the value and make money but still keep a score around the 40s, <br>perhaps look at Luke Douglas ($249,900), as the Sharks will be doing lots of tackling, Sam Burgess ($244,900), or Nate Myles ($244,600). But perhaps the best value get here is Gareth Ellis ($227,300) who because of a few poor scores is at a great price. Last week he posted a 59; granted, it was in a golden-point game – but he should still push 40 each week. Matt Gillett will start as five-eight for the Broncos this week and just continues to impress. He's another very tidy option.<br><br>Johnathan Thurston is also gone for the rest of the year. He needs to be punted if you still have him. You only get a dismal $183,100 for the Australian halfback after a rough year. <br><br>If you can upgrade, read above under John Sutton for options but if you need to buy around his price tag, Jamie Lyon looks the best option. At $177,500 he is affordable and if Manly get rolling he’ll be in the thick of it – and kicking goals. <br><br>Luke Walsh ($181,300) is also worth thinking of for try assists and kick metres (although he also misses a lot of tackles). Greg Bird ($190,900) is a risky but potentially good buy now he is likely to play in the forwards, although it is yet to be seen how many minutes he plays.<br><br>Ben Smith was unsuccessful at the judiciary and will be gone for two weeks. By the time he returns, Parramatta’s season might be over and his big-scoring days could be, too. It’s a 50/50 call on whether to keep him, as it depends on whether or not you can survive two weeks without him. His $221,500 price tag means you can follow similar guidelines to the Ben Lowe list above. <br><br>Darren Lockyer is struggling and likely to be gone for two weeks at least. It’s likely he’ll play hurt afterwards too, probably missing more tackles than usual. Ditch the Aussie skipper if you can. His value is $227,600 and you can get ideas from the Thurston section above. Benji Marshall ($229,700) could be ready to spring back into form (if he remembers how to kick a goal).<br><br>Luke Priddis was dropped for Nathan Fien last week and although named again it is likely he will miss the rest of the year barring an injury to Fien or Dean Young. Priddis gives you $229,000 to work with. If you can, get a big gun in Cameron Smith ($359,100) or Robbie Farah ($336,600), while there is still value in Jake Friend ($288,700) if you can afford him. <br><br>At Priddis’ value you can get Dean Young ($234,700) or Ian Henderson ($212,600) who is starting for the Warriors again. Isaac De Gois is just $161,000 – but you will only get around 30 from him at best. If you want to take a super punt, word is Anthony Mitchell ($73,600) could be a late inclusion into the Eels’ side. <br><br>Mitchell Aubusson has been named by the Roosters but is no certainty to play again this week. My advice is to keep him unless absolutely necessary to punt him. Look at Ben Lowe options above if desperate. <br><br>Rumour has it the Eels could well drop Daniel Mortimer. If you can get rid of him, do it. It’s not like he’s setting the world on fire. Look at the Thurston options above for ideas around his $189,400 price range.<br><br>Blake Ferguson might make way for Isaac Gordon over at the Sharks. If you are relying on this $72,000 player, you are already in trouble.<br><br>Kane Linnett, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and BJ Leilua are all Roosters casualties. In Linnett’s case, it is time to trade. Take the $122,300 and take a punt on Akuila Uate ($117,900) as he goes for more tries, or upgrade to a better centre with spare cash (see Ben Lowe above).<br><br>Ben Hannant is out of the Bulldogs’ side this week with an Achilles problem and Ben Barba shifts back to the bench. It’s bye bye Barba if you can… or need to (or just bench him if necessary), while Hannant ramains a tough call. You will only get $231,000 for him, which makes it hard to get a Luke Bailey ($310,300) or Sam Thaiday ($261,400) – but maybe a straight swap for Petero Civoniceva ($228,900) wouldn’t be so bad, as you know big Petero is going to do everything it takes to get his side back on track. Brent Kite ($203,000) and Jason King ($210,700) might be options, given Josh Perry is out and they’ll be required to contribute more of a workload. <br><br>The Panthers’ line-up looks far from settled and the Sea Eagles have problems with Ben Farrar, William Hopoate and Anthony Watmough, while Josh Perry dislocated the back of his knee and probably needs to have the pen run through him. Keep Watmough, but give Perry the heave-ho and put his $179,500 to better use. <br><br>Okay, I know this doesn’t cover everyone but it should at least get your thought processes started as you try your best to stay on top of your game. <br><br>If you have specific questions you can ask away on Facebook and our army of resident armchair experts will do their best to cover them. <br><br>Good luck all!
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