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Part one of a weekly exclusive with NRL stats guru, David Middleton.

Just relax and take a few deep breaths. It’s not life and death and there’s no reason to take this thing too seriously. Then again, it would be great to be known as a Dream Team legend and the last thing I want to do is make a complete goose of myself!

So that’s why I’ve just completed a Dream Team marathon, swotting up on all of the Lone Scout’s tips, signing up to Dream Team Pro and testing out a series of strategies to finally arrive at my 25-man squad.

I’ve had some experience with Dream Team campaigns in the past but come the business end of the season I haven’t been sighted off Nobby’s. It's another reason why I decided to put in the hard yards in 2011. Put in the hours and reap the rewards. At least that’s the theory.

First up I created a wish list of players I thought were must-haves for my team. Corey Parker, Paul Gallen, Robbie Farah, Jamie Soward and Mitch Aubusson were definites. But before I knew it I had blown the cap by $2.2 million. Hmmm ... back to the drawing board ...

Next I took a mathematical approach and decided to split my cap between backs and forwards. Knowing that forwards are invariably the heaviest scorers in Dream Team footy I weighted my cap 60 per cent towards the forwards and 40 to the backs. It meant I had around $2.5 million to spend on my 12 forwards and $1.7 for my 13 backs. In other words my forwards needed to average $210,000 and my backs $129,000. Right then I had to lower my sights. It meant if I chose Corey Parker at $391,000, I’d have to significantly reduce my spend on my other back-rowers. I juggled the numbers to and fro, looked for some good value options like Shane Shackleton ($92,500), Steve Southern ($117,900) and Greg Eastwood ($144,000) and that allowed me to choose Dallas Johnson at $285,000. Johnson makes his return to the NRL with the Cowboys in 2011 after a season with the Catalans Dragons and so comes at a bargain price. In his last season in the NRL with the Melbourne Storm, Johnson finished in the top 10 Dream Team players and averaged 47 points per game.

Choosing industrious front-rowers Luke Bailey ($289,000) and Jason King ($240,000) meant I had to compensate with a pair of props well below my $210,000 average. David Shillington enjoyed a great season with the Raiders in 2010 but was prone to miss tackles (partly explaining his $174,500 tag) while Penrith’s Sam McKendry, who won a place in the Kiwis’ Four Nations squad last November, looks good value at $139,400.

The price tag on leading hookers Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith was too rich for my liking, so I’ve gone for the economy of promising youngsters Andrew McCullough ($261,000) and Travis Waddell ($168,800).

I selected Warriors halfback James Maloney as my playmaker ($261,000) and Dragon Nathan Fien as his partner. I’m counting on Fien being given plenty of match-time at hooker.

Alongside marquee selection Mitch Aubusson ($251,000) in the three-quarters, I’ve chosen lower-priced players like Lewis Brown ($181,000), Lote Tuqiri ($118,000) and Tony Williams ($106,300). I’m hoping Manly coach Des Hasler will make greater use of Williams’ blockbusting style as a forward to inflate his numbers.

At fullback I’ve strayed away from the high-priced Jarryd Hayne, Josh Dugan and Co. and slotted in wingers Brett Morris and Nathan Merritt. My theory is that Morris will get plenty of opportunities to run at the end of a more expansive Dragons’ backline, while Merritt should benefit from the arrival of Test star Greg Inglis at Souths.

Next I tested my team across the bye rounds to ensure I would not leave myself with an over-supply of non-scorers. With trades limited to two per week it is important to keep an eye on the rep period when the stars are forced out and up to eight teams can have a bye on any one weekend.

So that was my strategy and my final act was to test my squad against the Team Analyser. The outcome was a projected score of 522, which I reckon is nothing to write home about.

Looks like it’s back to the drawing board yet again. Just as well I’m not taking this seriously!!

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