By now, it's not hard to guess who the best players in Dream Team are. Click on 'Stats Centre' and you'll get the top four straight away – Cameron Smith, Nathan Hindmarsh, Shaun Fensom and Corey Parker. Like the NRL ladder, NRL Dream Team's player ratings also has a "big four" – and those players look like dominating the game for the rest of the season. Frankly, all four of those big guns should be in your team.
But who are the best of the rest? You can't pack your team with the best 17 players in Dream Team, so the real point of difference between the successful teams will be the fringe players – those guys who can produce a big score but who don't stand out from the pack.
It's the question I've been getting asked all week. Glenn Stewart or Andrew Ryan? Michael Luck or Simon Mannering? Matt Srama or Robbie Farah?
Many of these debates are a coin toss between two players of similar price, who have averaged very similar scores. There's no clear-cut answer to any of these, but there is information out there that can help you make your guess.
One thing to consider is the run home to the end of the season for each of these players. As I've said before, certain types of players score well in certain types of games. Jamie Soward scores plenty when his Dragons are controlling and winning games, when he has plenty of opportunity to score DT points through kick metres and goals – hence a big 59 when the Dragons blitzed the Sharks in Round 19 and a below-average 40 when they were pipped at the post by the Raiders a week later.
Forwards on the other hand score the bulk of their points through tackles. The number of tackles a player makes depends on several things, including the minutes they play, the number other workhorses they're "competing with" for tackles in their own team, and the quality of the opposition – a stronger opponent generally means more defensive work.
With that in mind, here's a rundown on the forwards outside that "big four", to help you decide which stars should complete your pack.
Aiden Tolman ($285,800, Bulldogs – Run home: Roosters, Cowboys, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Knights, Raiders)
Starting off with an easy one. Tolman is comfortably the best FRF in Dream Team this year. Buy him.
Ben Hannant ($289,200, Broncos – Run home: Sharks, Warriors, Cowboys, Knights, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles)
The Broncos do have a lot of props going around at the moment, but big Ben is the undisputed No.1. No surprises his biggest scores have coincided with the Broncos' toughest matches, against the Dragons (71), Storm (55 last week) and Manly (52). The Broncs finish with Manly again and have a tricky run coming up, so he should continue to score well. Bear in mind Hannant is a bit pricier than the other options at FRF, and can still post low scores (see a 32 against the Titans in R19) against easier opposition.
Sam Thaiday ($268,700, Broncos – Run home: Sharks, Warriors, Cowboys, Knights, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles)
A class act who's really upped his workload in the back half of the year after becoming a regular 80-minute back-rower (despite being classed as a FRF in Dream Team). He isn't as reliant on tackles for his points as other forwards, with a barnstorming running game helping him to big scores against strugglers the Rabbitohs and Titans.
Nate Myles ($261,800, Roosters – Run home: Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Sharks, Eels, Storm)
Is getting through big minutes as a prop these days, with his scores improving rapidly over the past month (36, 40, 53, 60). With Manly, the Dragons and the Storm still to play, Myles will have much more tackling to do. His price is on the way up, so consider snapping him up sooner rather than later. Also available as a 2RF.
Luke Bailey ($257,300, Titans – Run home: Knights, Sharks, Storm, Raiders, Tigers, Eels)
A rock-solid scorer up front who has grouped almost his scores between 39 and 55 this season. The last-placed Titans tend to do a fair bit of defending against everybody, so the draw shouldn't be a major factor for Bailey.
Luke Douglas ($234,700, Sharks – Run home: Broncos, Titans, Bulldogs, Roosters, Cowboys, Tigers)
A very similar scorer to Bailey, who he will join on the Gold Coast next season. Is a tough nut who bounced back immediately from an apparent six-week medial ligament injury earlier this season, so he should have the character to keep his work rate up even if the Sharks fade out of finals contention. Another mid-40s scorer.
Andrew Ryan ($298,800, Bulldogs – Run home: Roosters, Cowboys, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Knights, Raiders)
An 80-minute back-rower in recent weeks and looking set to continue that role under new coach Jim Dymock. Won't be competing with David Stagg for tackles until Stagg returns in Round 25, which is a boost. Might not post a massive score against the Roosters, but should get plenty of work done against NQ, the Sharks and Manly especially. Has been hitting the mid-50s recently and is looking like a good buy in the second row.
Glenn Stewart ($290,600, Sea Eagles – Run home: Tigers, Roosters, Eels, Bulldogs, Storm, Broncos)
Stewart has been in fine scoring form of late, although a string of missed tackles last week cost him. Fellow second-row star Anthony Watmough is named to return from a shoulder injury this week, but could be given reduced minutes by Des Hasler in the next few weeks with the team assured of a finals spot. If anything, Manly's draw looks a little too easy in the next few weeks, with the Sea Eagles expected to rout the Roosters, Eels and Bulldogs, although a massive final fortnight will see Stewart get plenty of defensive work against title rivals Melbourne and the Broncos.
Paul Gallen ($295,200, Sharks – Run home: Broncos, Titans, Bulldogs, Roosters, Cowboys, Tigers)
Still under an injury cloud and reportedly ruled out of action until Round 22. Does a ton of running, but his tackle counts are down this year, hence him dropping out of the Dream Team must-have bracket. His price will drop again after back-to-back scores in the mid-30s. Mixed run home. Probably still a keeper unless you have trades to spare, but be wary of picking him up.
Dallas Johnson ($251,900, Cowboys – Run home: Panthers, Bulldogs, Broncos, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Warriors)
After a sensational start to the year and a mid-season lull, DJ has settled into a habit of scoring steady mid-40s, almost exclusively from tackles. That's unlikely to change over the next month and a half, but he comes a little cheaper than the above options and is a solid keeper if you've got him.
Simon Mannering & Michael Luck ($243,600 & $243,700, Warriors – Run home: Raiders, Broncos, Knights, Panthers, Dragons, Cowboys)
These two Warriors are both 80-minute back-rowers who come at basically the same price. Have three or four tough games against top-eight opponents ahead of them where they should do plenty of work. Luck's price recently bottomed out, while Mannering is on the way up and seems more likely to hit a mid-50s score – as long as he's not switched back into the centres by Ivan Cleary. Both only posted mid-30s last week in a routing of the Rabbitohs, when there wasn't a lot of tackling do to.
Liam Fulton ($237,500, Tigers – Run home: Sea Eagles, Dragons, Panthers, Eels, Titans, Sharks)
One of 2010's bargain buys, Fulton played more than 70 minutes last weekend for the first time since May, and promptly scored 52 points. Another busy tackler, he could get plenty of defence done in the next few weeks against the likes of Manly and the Dragons. Not guaranteed a full 80 minutes though.
Matt Hilder ($254,700, Knights – Run home: Titans, Raiders, Warriors, Broncos, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs)
A very busy defender, but has only been used off the bench as a hooker/lock since Isaac De Gois reclaimed the No.9 jersey at Newcastle. Consider looking for an 80-minute alternative instead.
Chris Houston ($237,000, Knights – Run home: Titans, Raiders, Warriors, Broncos, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs)
He started the season as a cash cow, became a possible keeper, and now is looking like a middle-of-the-road player again. The other side of the coin to Hilder, Houston plays 80 minutes every week but his tackle counts have dropped off in recent times, meaning he has hit three straight scores in the mid-30s after being a 50-point player in the middle of the season. After a year out of the game in 2010, the physicality of the NRL could be catching up with him. Consider an upgrade to one of the big guns.
Jake Friend ($309,000, Roosters – Run home: Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Sharks, Eels, Storm)
Tends to play close to 80 minutes every week, even with another hooker coming off the bench for the Roosters. That, and the fact the Tricolours have often found themselves on the defensive this year, means Friend has made a lot of tackles (he trails only Hindmarsh and Fensom in that department). Games against the big three of Manly, the Dragons and the Storm to come means Friend is likely to post some more big scores in the final weeks of the season.
Andrew McCullough ($284,200, Broncos – Sharks, Warriors, Cowboys, Knights, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles)
A great points-per-minute player who has averaged scores in the mid-40s this season despite not playing the full 80 minutes once. Gets the vast majority of his points from tackles, so should score well against the Sea Eagles, Dragons and Storm (he posted 57 against Melbourne last weekend). A very solid option.
Robbie Farah ($266,800, Tigers – Run home: Sea Eagles, Dragons, Panthers, Eels, Titans, Sharks)
One of the giants of Dream Team in years gone by, Farah has had a quieter role this year – leaving much of the kicking to halves Robert Lui and Benji Marshall. He's hit the 50 mark a few times this year, but doesn't make the big tackle counts which would make him a consistent Dream Team performer. He's solid if you've got him, but could be worth an upgrade if you've got trades to spare.
Matt Keating ($268,200, Eels – Run home: Storm, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Tigers, Roosters, Titans)
A handy mid-season cash cow who brought home some big scores (including a 63, 55 and 60) after getting the gig as Parramatta's full-time hooker. That role seemed to be secured when bench hooker Anthony Mitchell made the move to the Roosters, but last week Stephen Kearney switched Casey McGuire to the bench as an impact dummy-half - a move likely to put a dent in Keating's minutes. It resulted in a score of 35 last week and Keating's first price drop since Round 3. Might be time to find an upgrade.
Matt Srama ($235,300, Titans – Run home: Knights, Sharks, Storm, Raiders, Tigers, Eels)
One of the mid-season bargains that many Dreamers are considering keeping for the long haul, Srama's value lies in the fact he replaced Nathan Friend as the Titans' 80-minute workhorse hooker. That dropped to 60 minutes a fortnight ago when Preston Campbell came off the bench as another dummy-half, but Srama played the full 80 last week with Preston instead replacing Beau Henry in the halves. It's worth keeping in mind that that was Henry's first game for the club, so he could be expected to play the full 80 more often from here on in, which would mean Campbell spending time at hooker instead at Srama's expense. It means Srama's a slight risk as your second hooker – but with a relatively cheap price tag, he could be a risk worth taking.
Of course, there are more options in the forwards out there, but space constraints mean I can't get to them all. Next week I'll take a look at the most likely backline players to impress in the closing stages of the season.
Another week, another win for the original Lone Scouts against my hypothetical Reset Scouts – a team based on my original start-of-season squad which had used minimal trades during the year. While the Lone Scouts – who are low on trades but have made enough moves during the year to bring in several big name players – scored a healthy 912, the Resets would have posted 855 in Round 20.
Still, trades are on their side, so with another couple of changes this week (Jarryd Hayne in for Gareth Widdop and Dene Halatau in for Elijah Taylor) we'll see which team wins out in Round 21 as the Dream Team finals close in.
So this week's Reset Scouts lineup is:
Hayne; Nathan Smith, Alex Glenn, Halatau, Ben Jones; Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Matt Srama; Aiden Tolman, Mitchell Allgood; Cameron Smith (c), Robbie Farah; Nathan Hindmarsh, Shaun Fensom, Dallas Johnson, Simon Mannering, Chris Houston.
Some more tidbits for Round 21:
- Albert Kelly returned from a broken leg in the NSW Cup last week. He could return to the Sharks halves sooner rather than later. There's been talk he could bump Wade Graham into an (albeit stacked) forward pack, and the loss of Gallen may make that a stronger possibility.
- The injury to David Stagg means he's a definite 'out' trade now, with all indications suggesting he will be a bench player at the Bulldogs again when he returns in Round 25. Stagg's absence in the Dogs pack is great news for the point-scoring ability of fellow workhorse Andrew Ryan and new lock Dene Halatau.
- Johnathan Thurston update – the man himself says he is on track for a return against the Rabbitohs in Round 24.
- As I'd suggested last week, Kyle Stanley's stay in the hookers role at the Dragons has turned out to be predictably short-lived. He's back to 18th man this week thanks to the return of Ben Hornby, which pushes Nathan Fien to 9.
- The lofty 1000-point mark remains just out of reach for Dream Teams this season. Last week the "come.get.some's" went very, very close, posting a massive 998 for Round 20. Maybe a team will hit four figures this weekend?
That's the lot for this week, good luck once again and keep Dreaming.