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Parramatta Eels fan Matt Orrock won first prize in Toyota NRL Dream Team by a nose last season, with his team The Reserve hanging on to first place in the final few rounds. In the end it was a tie for first place, with Matt getting the win after registering his team first. He talks to about his wonder season at the top, his love of Dream Team, his take on the new scoring structure, and some tips for rival players...

How long have you been playing Toyota NRL Dream Team for, and what keeps you coming back?

This will be my fourth year. Last year was third time lucky. What keeps me coming back? DT adds another dimension to watching League. If possible, it has made my love of the game stronger. Oh, and to beat my mates...

Who do you play with? Mates, colleagues? How competitive does it get?

Yep. My mates. This will be the fourth running of our private comp. Each year it gets stronger and more competitive. We have even made our private league professional now and we all chip in $25 and play for the prizemoney. The overall champ now gets a trophy which is presented to him or her on NRL Prelim Finals weekend at our "presentation night" in Surfers Paradise. It's kind of like our Mad Monday. Yep, we get competitive... haha.

Were you chasing the overall title from the start of the season in 2011?

There is always a lot of banter and sledging in our private league. We release odds on the winner... fair dinkum you would think it was the real thing. I always make the comment in the coaches box before the season starts: "I have three goals. To win overall, to win our league and to win The Eliminator." Realistically did I think I would win? No. Am I always trying? Absolutely!

When did you know you had a genuine chance of winning the competition?

I started fairly well last year. I moved towards the top 10 by about Round 6. I thought then that I was a real chance at winning. By Round 9 I think I may have hit No.1. I think that's about the time the anxiety attacks and insomnia kicked in. Did I mention how much fun playing this DT thing is?

You won the game after tying for first place. How early did you enter your team?

Within minutes of the game launching. I stayed up 'til all hours just to register. I love the concept of the game so much that I was like a kid at Christmas waiting for it to open. To see the player prices, start building my team. Just to see what the new format would look like. I was aware of the "first to register" rule but never in my wildest dreams did I think my excitement and anticipation of the new season would be the difference between a Toyota and a very long off-season.

Where were you when you found out you had won?

I was at a work conference in Melbourne. Not exactly the greatest place to be when you're sweating bullets. I sat at the very back of the auditorium with my phone beside me waiting for a text from a mate, constantly refreshing the DT mobile site on my phone.

My last weekend was such a disaster I thought it had slipped away. I was so nervous. It took ages for the game to be re-opened after the final weekend. I was outside having lunch when I checked my phone again. It was open. I went straight to the home page to see overall ranking: 1. I quickly jumped onto the final ladder and saw my team name sitting at first. Tied. But at No. 1. My hands instantly started shaking.

I said the words: "I've won". My colleagues looked at me bemused. "Won what?" "I just won a car!"

One of my fellow DT'ers rang me straight away and told me I was first. I asked him to check for me what the tie result meant. A minute later he texted me to say it had been announced by Lone Scout on Facebook. I won on the first-to-register rule.

Within minutes about 8000 people at the Melbourne Convention centre could see me celebrating. That night at the Crown Casino I had people I didn't even know who worked for the company saying "You're that guy that won the car". The next two days at the work conference were loooong. The next two nights at Crown Casino were longer...

How has it changed your life, if at all?

It just gave me the thrill of a lifetime. To win something I love so very much, in the sport I love even more was just the greatest thrill. A bucket list moment. How has it changed my life? Well, a job with the NRL would be a great way for it to start... haha.

Generally speaking, what's your advice for first time Dream Team coaches?

First timers? Um, let me see. Have fun and hold on for the rollercoaster ride of game day emotions. But mostly have fun!

What’s your advice for players that are chasing the overall title?

Getting your first 25 players right is crucial. It is possibly the difference between chasing the title and playing for head-to-head glory. The first few rounds of scoring isn't that important but if you choose the wrong team to begin with, you'll burn too many trades trying to get it right. Those trades are the trades you will need to get through the rep and bye season.

How much research did you do during the season to stay on top of things?

I just watched a lot of footy. Kept up to date with the Late Mail on, and the Lone Scout's Facebook page was great value too.

How long do you spend each week on your team and trades?

I only ever traded on a Friday before lockout to ensure I minimised any mistakes. During the week I would look at players prices and their break-evens. I guess some people like to read books; I loved to check out Dream Team. If you include watching every game each weekend, I spent about 20-30 hours per week.

Did you avoid picking Origin players in your squad last year?

No, not at the beginning. When it came closer to rep season it definitely became a factor and I tried to play "Origin selector" there with a few players. For example, I traded out Aiden Tolman two rounds before Origin because I thought he was a shoe-in for the Blues. Unfortunately, Ricky disagreed. That burnt a valuable trade.  

How did you stagger your trades during the season?

I utilised six trades before the Round 3 price change. That was to make improvements. By Round 6 I was conserving trades. I knew I was a chance of winning then so I started to design trades around maximising how many players I would have available during the rep season. I did up a spreadsheet by Round 6 and pretty much knew – barring injury and Ricky's Origin selection errors – who would be available and who would be playing in my team for the upcoming 10 weeks. Although I did tinker with this on a weekly basis I still knew weeks ahead who I wanted and how many players would be representing The Reserve.

I think I blew my last trade in about Round 21. I had a solid 22 players playing and thought I could get through. In the last round with Craig Bellamy resting Cam Smith, it left me with my lowest-scoring emergency. I only had one player left. The last round had me with only 17 possible scoring players. I just scraped home.

Should you keep salary cap cash up your sleeve at the start of the season?

To use a commonly used term on Facebook: IMO... no. I started last year with the entire $4.2 million maxed out. I didn't have a penny left. It goes back to the idea of getting that first 25 right is crucial.

How did your team cope with the bye rounds in 2011?

I struggled like most others, but the spreadsheet and the forward planning helped enormously. I wouldn't have made the right decisions if I was just winging it.

What are your thoughts on the new points scoring system in 2012?

Great! Don't get me wrong, If the point scoring stayed the same I'd be a whole lot more confident of performing well. Now I'm not so confident. It's a whole new ball game.

Having said that I will say this: when you are playing the official NRL fantasy league game and you do not even consider players like Billy Slater and Akuila Uate, then Dream Team may very well have been the best fantasy league competition in the country, but was it an accurate reflection of the NRL? Unfortunately, it wasn't. The competition is now more like the NRL. I love it!

Any players you have your eye on for 2012? Or are you keeping them close to your chest?

Well, this is a competition, haha. (*Cough**cough* Campese *cough*...)

Do you have a go-to captain in mind for this season?

Do you need to ask? Cam Smith!

What's your favourite part of playing NRL Dream Team (apart from winning cars)?

The NRL is the greatest game of all. Dream Team makes it better! Oh, and beating my long-time rival The Guardians...

Toyota NRL Dream Team is open now! With $89,850 in prizes up for grabs, sign up for free for your chance to win...

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