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Welcome to the New Year dreamers and welcome to a new Toyota NRL Dream Team. It's my belief the updates to the scoring system will make the official (and best) NRL fantasy game more competitive in 2012, without changing the special character of our game. From the feedback so far, it seems most of last year's Dreamers agree.

For those who missed it, it's worth reading up on the new scoring system and the other significant changes to the game this season in my last column.

The restructured scoring system hasn't been introduced for the sake of change. The changes were made to remove some of the predictability of the game and to prevent the trend that has all Dreamers chasing the same 17 at the business end of the competition. More importantly, the new scoring system should give you more incentive to buy attacking stars by rewarding contributions all over the park. Hopefully, we'll see a fantasy competition that better mirrors the action on the paddock.

That said, there's no need to panic if you're a long-time Toyota Dream Team fanatic, as the bread and butter of DT scoring (tackles, run metres and kick metres) will remain unchanged from previous seasons. The players who dominate these areas should still be the highest-scoring players.

In 2012, you just need to factor in an extra (and admittedly more random) component: a scoring system that rewards out-and-out attacking players too. This should bring a new batch of players into contention as potential Toyota Dream Team guns.

Scoring boosts

Now the scoring system rewards out-and-out attacking players, as well as the hard-workers. Tries have doubled in value from four points to eight. Try assists – the hallmark of a good playmaker – are now worth five points. Line breaks have jumped from two points to four, and, due to popular demand, players will now earn three points for a tackle bust. Field goals – usually a crucial play in the context of a game – are now worth five points, while successful 40/20 kicks are worth four.

In the context of a game, these are all big plays and are now significantly rewarded. The changes mean that the players who have traditionally struggled in Toyota Dream Team – fullbacks, wingers and true centres – will now have the chance to score big points each week. Genuine match-winners like Billy Slater and Akuila Uate will now be rewarded for their game-breaking plays in Toyota Dream Team.

Needless to say, Nathan Merritt's huge show against the Eels last year would've fully rewarded DT coaches who had picked him.  A quick calculation of his error-free, five-try effort shows that he would have scored 99 points under the new scoring system – well above the 57 he scored in that game last year. Still, it's worth keeping in mind that's a near perfect game for a winger and still doesn't quite hit the magic 100-point mark.

Bigger penalties

While more pointscoring options are available for players this year, on-field blunders will also be punished more harshly.

A missed tackle will now cost a player -2 points, while an ineffective tackle will be -1. Handling errors will now be worth -3, and a player will be docked 5 points for a sin-bin and 10 points for a send-off.

An "ineffective tackle" is when a defender who is trying to make a tackle allows an attacking player to get an offload away. As such, it's not quite a tackle, and not quite a missed tackle.

For busy defenders, negative points for ineffective tackles will generally be balanced out by the fact they also make a lot of one-on-one tackles, and tackles in general. But the harsher penalties for ineffective and missed tackles will punish weak defenders – usually backline players who are in the team for their attacking prowess. So while these players now have the opportunity to score big points through attacking plays, they can still be a liability in your Dream Team if they are turnstiles in defence.

Although not as significant as the attacking adjustments, these changes mean you should also be wary of unreliable defenders, players with poor ball security and undisciplined players.

How 2011 would have looked

The people behind the new scoring system have tested it against last year's season stats. Below are the players who would have topped the average scoring charts last season under the new points system. (DT traditionalists will be happy to see the usual suspects still at the top of the list.)

Player – average score per game under 2012 rules (average under 2011 rules)
1. Cameron Smith – 73.1 (63.71)
2. Corey Parker – 71.81 (62.74)
3. Paul Gallen – 63.77 (49.17)
4. Daly Cherry-Evans – 62.38 (48.86)
5. Michael Gordon – 58.46 (37.44)
6. Johnathan Thurston – 58.12 (44.69)
7. James Maloney – 57.71 (48.57)
8. Jamie Soward – 57.40 (46.05)
9. Shaun Fensom – 56.50 (55.41)
10. Nathan Hindmarsh – 56.47 (55.82)

Note the scores for back-rowers Shaun Fensom and Nathan Hindmarsh are largely unchanged. It shows players who score almost all their points through tackles won't get any significant boost from the new points changes – something to be wary of when picking your squad this season.

Some other big improvers under the new scoring system:
Benji Marshall – 51.36 points per game (36.86 ppg last season)
Matthew Bowen – 48.34 (29.32)
Billy Slater – 46.64 (24.86)
Josh Dugan – 43.88 (20.82)
Akuila Uate – 42.50 (19.40)
Ben Barba – 40.98 (20.55)
Jason Nightingale – 40.36 (26.10)

The early indications are that halves will be even more crucial in Toyota Dream Team this season, with a large batch of playmakers capable of producing regular high scores. Good playmakers will be crucial for Toyota Dream Team success, just as they are in the NRL. Forward workhorses will also dominate as usual (it's hard to see the holy trinity of Smith, Parker and Gallen being bumped off the top of the tree) while outside backs are likely to see their scores fluctuate week-to-week, with big scores up for grabs when they take on the weaker defensive teams.

Hopefully that's provided some food for thought as you plan ahead for the start of the Toyota Dream Team season. The game opens on January 25, so start planning your squad now...

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