As the NRL season draws nearer, Dream Team guru the Lone Scout has the big tips for the 2011 season. This week, he names a few bargains to keep an eye out for.
The key early on for many Dream Team coaches is finding the young players who will come into their own in 2011. These are the players who you can buy for next to nothing, but whose value grows in leaps and bounds as they pile on the points as the season goes on.
Last season, no player filled this role better than Manly's Trent Hodkinson – a 21-year-old playmaker valued at $84,100 at the start of the year. Hodkinson held a spot in the Sea Eagles' starting side from Round 2 and immediately started picking up scores in the 50s, with his value ballooning to $279,400 at one point in the season.
He finished the year priced at $251,700 and will again be a handy Dream Team player for his new club the Bulldogs this season.
But the question is, who is the next Hodkinson?
Luckily, for both Dream Teamers and Manly fans, it's not hard to spot his replacement.
Sea Eagles young gun Daly Cherry-Evans had a blinder of a season in the under-20s Toyota Cup in 2010, guiding Manly to a minor premiership from halfback.
Cherry-Evans is expected to immediately move into first grade this season, with plenty of wraps on the youngster coming from Manly skipper Jamie Lyon.
"I think he'll have just as big an impact as Trent, if not bigger," Lyon has said.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on him but we are quietly confident that he can do a great job. He's a very good organiser, he's got good ball skills and a great kicking game. He's very quick off the mark.
"He's going to be a great halfback for us I think."
At just $73,600, Cherry-Evans should be worth a spot on your bench at least at the start of the season. Keep an eye out for him in the early rounds, and get him into your 17 if he starts piling on the points like Hodkinson did in 2010.
Here's a few other value buys to keep an eye out for:
Ben Ross ($84,100) - The Rabbitohs prop is making a long-awaited comeback from the spinal injury he suffered in the opening round of 2009. His low price tag is due to the fact he didn't play a minute in the 2010 NRL season – a common thread you'll find for several under-valued players in Dream Team. Is certain to get game time for the Rabbitohs this year, and his value should rise quickly in the season's opening rounds.
Shane Shackleton ($92,500) - The Parramatta second-rower played just one game in 2010 before succumbing to a hamstring injury. He scored only 10 points in that game, hence his reduced price this season. In 2009, Shackleton averaged a solid 28 points per match for the Roosters, before making the switch to the Eels in the off-season. He may not be a huge Dream Team point-scorer like teammate Nathan Hindmarsh, but he should be the kind of player to make you decent points – and money – as the season progresses.
Matt Orford ($145,900) - A former Dally M medal-winning captain and halfback, Orford looks like a great buy for the Canberra Raiders this season – and for Dream Team coaches as well. The former Manly star will have the bulk of the kicking duties at Canberra, filling in for the injured Terry Campese, and should therefore pick up plenty of points from kick-metres. Campese is a genuine Dream Team star, and while Orford may not match him in the tackling department he still looks a bargain at $145,900. Scored 35.75 points a game in 2009 and 41 points a week in 2008.
Jack Bosden ($73,600) - A former Sharks junior and now a rookie back-rower at the Dragons, Bosden had a blinder for the Red V in Sunday's Charity Shield win over the Rabbitohs, setting up one try and scoring another in a man-of-the-match performance. Such a performance could mean Bosden plays big minutes in 2011, in which case he would prove an absolute steal at $73,600. Second-rowers are generally the big point-scorers in Dream Team, so keep an eye out for Bosden's name on the Dragons' team sheet ahead of Round 1.
Of course, there's a whole lot of other bargain buys out there, but I'm not going to give them all away (where's the fun in that?). The point I'm making is, keep an eye out for players who didn't play much of a part in 2010 – players coming back from injury, coming back from the UK or making the step up from the Toyota Cup.
Not all of these guys will pay off in the long run, but if you do your research you can find some bargains. And keep an eye on pre-season injuries too – one player I was going to mention here is promising Roosters forward Anthony Cherrington, who has again unfortunately been hit with a long-term knee injury after the weekend's trial games.
For more players to watch, keep an eye on my Facebook page, and follow me on Twitter. There are plenty of Dream Team experts having their say on Facebook every day, so join the conversion if you haven't already!
In the next couple of weeks I'll look at the art of picking the right captain, then my guide to making the smart trades.