Time to talk strategy with a few days to go until the 2011 NRL Dream Team season kicks off. Apart from picking the right mix of big names and bargain buys, and managing your trades, you'll also need to have an idea of your gameplan for the season.
Basically, it comes down to this. Do you want to win your private head-to-head league against your mates, or win the whole thing and drive home a new Toyota?
For the record, Lone Scout would love to win the car, but unfortunately isn't allowed to – so instead I'll be focusing on winning as many head-to-head leagues as possible.
Of course, it's not impossible to win both your league and the major prize, but there are two specific strategies for achieving each goal. Here they are.
HEAD-TO-HEAD LEAGUE GLORY
If you can get a bunch of friends, family and co-workers involved, a head-to-head league is a great way to play NRL Dream Team. Seeing your team collect points each week is fun, but is nothing compared to the satisfaction of taking on and beating your best mate over the weekend. You'll have the full draw for your league by the time your league begins, and can follow the scores of both your team and your rival's online or on mobile as the weekend progresses – right down to the final crucial points from Monday Night Football.
There are a few elements of the head-to-head league that stand out from the regular overall competition. Apart from the scoring system (two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, just like the NRL), there's also the fact that the head-to-head matches only begin in Round 4. That allows enough rounds for you to face each of the other 15 teams in your league once, with the final four weeks of the regular NRL season counting as your league's 'Finals Series' (which are played out according the NRL's McIntyre system).
Also, the split rounds that take place around Origin time in the NRL are 'bye rounds' in your Dream Team league. So even if you post low scores in those rounds, they won't count towards your league ranking.
The focus here is to have a team strong enough to get you a few wins at the start of the season, but also to save enough cash and trades to become a force come finals time. Keep an eye on the team you're facing each week before making trades – if you have an "easy" opponent, you may be able to delay that crucial trade another week.
Don't worry if you make a slow start. Remember, the top eight teams go through to the finals, so as long as you can scrape into the top half of the ladder, you can finish as the champ.
In fact, you want your team to hit full strength at the start of the finals, preferably with plenty of trades in hand. That way, while others use up their final trades when injuries take their toll, you should be in a position to cruise towards your league's Grand Final.
GOING FOR THE BIG PRIZE
Playing for the overall title of Dream Team champion is a little tougher, as you'd expect. Now, every point your starting 17 score during the season counts. There are no 'bye' rounds, and no match-ups against easy opponents.
So trading, and managing your squad, becomes more important. Is your team overloaded with Roosters and Eels? That could come back to bite you if those teams have a bye round coming up (like in Round 9). Here, you'll need a well-balanced squad, with reserves that can get you points as well as players from a large variety of teams.
The Origin period becomes more of a factor, with points scored during the split rounds becoming vital. With only half the usual number of teams playing, it's obviously harder to have a full team of 17 all scoring points. You may need to plan ahead with trades in order to have enough players on the park for each of the bye rounds.
Plus there's the fact that the game's best players take part in Origin – meaning they'll get less game time for their clubs. Is it worth persisting with a Dream Team superstar like Cameron Smith when his scoring may take a hit in the middle of the season?
But don't forget, you've only got 30 trades for the season. So don't waste all of them in the bye rounds – when you may need to cover for injuries later in the year.
It's a tough balancing act, but if you're in amongst the leaders come the end of the year you will definitively have earned it.
Now, with all the teams named for Round 1 of the season, get in quick to finalise your starting squad!
Check back on NRL.com next week, when the Lone Scout will be revealing his starting squad for the 2011 Dream Team season.