At long last the wait is over. The NRL season – and Toyota NRL Dream Team for 2012 – is here. Got your team ready?
Make sure you have a squad in place by kick-off tonight when the Knights open the season against the Dragons, but remember it's only a partial lockout – meaning you can continue to shift around all non-Knights and Dragons players until Friday night.
For those still looking to get me into your head-to-head league, just get your league administrator (the person who started your league) to add me and any other celebrity coaches to your competition.
Now, with a few hours remaining before the season begins, here are a few answers to your Dream Team questions from this week.
From Brett Allen
In one of your recent articles (Trading tactics - what's your gameplan?) you mention that the Dream Team competition "is determined the same way as in the NRL – through a top-eight finals series, run according to the McIntyre System". However, now that the NRL finals series format has been changed, will the Dream Team finals format be changed to reflect?
Yes Brett, the head-to-head DT finals system will be changed to match the new NRL system.
From Joel Sheridan (via Twitter)
Thoughts on goal kickers for each team?
Here are the presumed goalkickers for each team, in the order that they'll be playing this week.
Knights – Kurt Gidley
Dragons – Jamie Soward
Eels – Luke Burt or Chris Sandow
Broncos – Corey Parker
Raiders – Jarrod Croker
Storm – Cameron Smith
Panthers – Michael Gordon
Bulldogs – Bryson Goodwin or Steve Turner
Cowboys – Johnathan Thurston
Titans – Scott Prince
Warriors – James Maloney
Sea Eagles – Jamie Lyon
Wests Tigers – Benji Marshall
Sharks – Todd Carney
Rabbitohs – Adam Reynolds
Roosters – Braith Anasta or Daniel Mortimer
From Jem Nash:
I was just wondering what you thought of Neville Costigan. He's listed to start as lock for the Knights and is a cheap 124K. Is he too risky? I feel like he could get some big scores throughout the season and could be a potential cash cow. What are your thoughts?
On the face of it, Costigan appears to be a solid option. Apart from two injury-hit games (in which he played 14 minutes each), Costigan averaged 63 minutes a game in the Knights pack, playing the full 80 twice. He also reteams with Wayne Bennett, who he played under at Brisbane and the Dragons.
The downside is the Knights have a lot of back rowers in their pack – along with Houston, Taia, and new front-rower Cuthbertson in the starting side, they have Joel Edwards, Matt Hilder (who will probably spend some time at hooker), Richi Fa'aoso and Alex McKinnon on the bench this week. That suggests a high rotation of back-rowers, which could mean limited minutes for Neville this season. And Costigan only averaged 20.9 last year, when Cuthbertson and McKinnon weren't at the club and Taia was (mostly) out injured. That average score was weighed down a bit by two low-scoring games due to injury, but he'll need to get more minutes on the park this year for his price to climb significantly.
From Lincoln Powell (via Facebook)
A lot has been said about Corey Norman being a bargain DT buy. However I am tossing up between Wallace and Norman at the moment. With only $10k difference, is Wallace a safer bet if you can afford him, assuming he will take on a greater role without Lockyer?
It's just about a 50/50 bet – Wallace is guaranteed to play pretty much all season in the No.7 jersey and will probably up his contribution after letting Darren Lockyer run the show in recent seasons. Norman doesn't have that certainty about him (there's talk he will be given the first six games to prove himself at five-eighth) but he could be the better scorer; when he played alongside Wallace in the halves during the Origin period last season he had more kick metres, as well as tackling and running the ball more.
So they're both likely to go up a little in value this season, but it's a judgement call – do you play it safe with Wallace, or take a bit of a risk with Norman? (Or ignore both and opt for four other halves?)
From Bavisanth Thayarooban
I've got a big selection decision to make but don't know what to do. It's in the halves, I'm looking for a player who can consistently score in the high 50s. Will Cherry-Evans deliver again? Is Jamie Soward going to go through a form slump like last year? Or will Maloney, JT or Benji score heavily in the new system?
In his Rookie of the Year season, Daly Cherry-Evans showed he could bust tackles as well as any halfback in the comp – which means he's only become more valuable under the new Dream Team point-scoring system. He's a safe bet, although he is also the priciest option out there.
Soward is a proven DT performer in the past but there's a chance he could struggle a bit in the post-Bennett era at the Dragons, particularly if new coach Steve Price opts to balance out the kicking more between Soward and Ben Hornby. (Without big kick-metre numbers, Soward is not a great DT scorer.) Thurston tends to fire in the first half of the year and then slump after Origin (although injury played its part last season), while Maloney, Marshall and Cooper Cronk should all be 50-point players.
The new scoring system has levelled the playing field a bit for the top halves, so it could be worth looking for a bit of value where possible – and consider some more bargain-basement options out there. Guys like Terry Campese, Todd Carney and Corey Norman all have their risks (Campo's an injury worry, Carney's form was ordinary last year and Norman may not keep a starting spot) but they could all be gambles worth taking.
From Colin Wilkinson (via Twitter)
Hi there, can you tell me who is looking food for the No.9 shirt at the Raiders? Love reading your posts.
Well Colin the team lists are now out, so we can officially say Travis Waddell has the inside running on holding the Raiders hooker role this year. He's still likely to share it with Glen Buttriss though, while Shaun Berrigan could also spend some time at rake.
Waddell could be a quality cash cow option if he gets decent minutes (don't count on him to get 80 though) but Buttriss is on his way back from injury so could take the starting spot down the track.
From Matthew Wenta
Hey mate just wondering what you think about Dene Halatau and Corey Payne? They are both cheap, below 150k in the second rows with Halatau also being able to play in the centres. Do you know if any of them would get decent game time in order to be mid-level cash cows? I know Halatau was a cash cow at the end of last season due to playing hooker, will he be hooker again?
Halatau's an interesting one. He only averaged mid-20s last season, but those scores did lift at the back end of the year when he got some time at lock and hooker. He played off the bench until Round 13, then from Round 15 onwards started three games at hooker and six in the back row – where he averaged 34 tackles a game (he scored better at lock than at hooker). His role could change under a new coach this season, but after being named in the pack for Round 1 he's certainly worth considering as an option in the centres.
Payne's a more scratchy option – he was purely a bench player last season, has been named on the bench again this week, and isn't available in the centres, and so would be a big gamble as a cash cow option. There's no guarantee his minutes would go up this year so I'd look elsewhere to fill your back row places.
From Luke Miller (via Facebook)
Lone Scout what's your opinion on Alex McKinnon?
McKinnon's a promising player but not necessarily a great DT option just yet. A Wayne Bennett pet project at the Dragons who followed the mastercoach to Newcastle, McKinnon was the one slight surprise when he was named in the Knights' Round 1 squad. He's only played three NRL games but is not rookie-cheap (he costs $165,800).
That price tag suggests a 28-point-a-game player, which is probably about right. He would have averaged 40 in his cameo appearances last year, but that was while getting plenty of minutes in an Origin-hit Dragons side. He's unlikely to get that kind of game time at Newcastle, at the start of the year at least, but could be a point-of-difference selection in the centres if you feel like being a little creative.
From Ben Teagle
Wanted to know your thoughts on Ryan Hoffman? Will he be a good DT points scorer this season? I’m tossing up between him and Zeb Taia for a 2RF spot to backup Fensom and Parker.
Hoffman's price may be a little lower because of his UK stint, but I don't know if he's a massive bargain – he's a quality player but wasn't really a dominant Dream Team type even before he left the Storm. He's more a ball-player/wide running second rower than a Shaun Fensom-style workhorse, and his $225,200 price tag suggests a player scoring high-30s – which is probably about right for him.
Even if Hoffman starts hitting scores in the early 40s, his price won't climb that much. He'd have to take on a significantly bigger role at the Storm (which he could in Adam Blair's absence) to become a big Dream Team scorer. He won't be a bad signing by any means but there could be better cash cows out there.
Taia's also a tricky one. He's a decent worker, breaks tackles and can play the 80, making him a prime candidate to be a big Dream Team climber. But there are a couple of doubts over him. For one thing, he spent six months on the sidelines last year with a pretty serious neck injury (although he did make an unexpected return for the Knights in their last game of the season). For another, nobody knows just how Wayne Bennett will use his forwards this season. He rotated his big men pretty regularly at the Dragons (meaning none of the Dragons forwards have been big Dream Team scorers in recent years) and at the Knights Taia will be battling with the likes of Chris Houston, Neville Costigan, Joel Edwards, Matt Hilder and Adam Cuthbertson for minutes.
The potential payoff is certainly there for Taia, but he's a risk if you're relying on him to make you significant money. On the other hand, both Hoffman and Taia will be more reliable scorers than a lot of other "genuine" cash cows out there, if your focus is more on points rather than cash.
From Alex Angus
Its only my second DT year and I was wondering which is a better starting squad. Should I spend a lot on the likes of Parker or Smith now and then fill up on cheap options or potential cash cows? Or is a more rounded approach with a bunch of midrange players like Glenn, Srama and Bowen better?
Opinion is split a bit on this one, but I reckon you take the first option. You should go into the season with the idea that, over the course of the year, you'll use your 30 trades to build a team with 17 stars and a few back-up players. That means you need to start with a few cash cows – or at least players you think will go up in value – who you will sell during the year to bring in the big players. You should also start with a few genuine big guns who you can be confident you'll keep all year.
If you buy a lot of mid-range players, you will either: a) be selling them at some stage, missing out on the profit you could have made with cash cows/undervalued players; or b) keep them all season, taking up spots in your squad that could have gone to big guns. This is especially important for head-to-head players, as a team full of solid mid-range players will get beaten by a team with 17 stars during the head-to-head finals series.
Also, opting for a few genuine bargains will free up more salary cap space at the start of the year, meaning you have more to spend on a big gun (like Cameron Smith) rather than a mid-range player (like Matt Srama).
You certainly need at least one gun (Parker, Smith, Gallen, etc) in your team early on, to ensure you make the most of the captaincy.
From Samuel Hunt
Hey Scout. Just wondering what your thoughts are on Jarrod Mullen. I am a passionate Knights fan so I'm bringing my bias into the team. I think he will be the team's dominate half this year because I doubt Gidley will kick much and I believe he will thrive under Bennet!
Otherwise what are your thoughts on Kane Lawyton?
Mullen could be a smokey this year, particularly if Bennett manages to turn him into the next Jamie Soward. He is very Soward-like, and could score very well if he takes on the bulk of the kicking with Gidley playing more of a Ben Hornby role. It's a bit left-field (Mullen's never been a huge DT scorer) but I don't mind it as a tactic this season.
Lawton's a tricky one – he looks juicy at his price as a starting hooker, but remember Matt Srama is coming back from injury and will presumably take the No.9 when he's fully fit. Lawton could end up being a very short-term option.
Got any more questions? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and I'll do my best to get to your questions today (and if I can't get to yours, there's plenty of other smart coaches on my Facebook page who may be able to give you an answer).
And for more info on all things Dream Team, check out Rob Bruns's video every Thursday afternoon on NRL.com.
Otherwise, read up all you can on NRL.com and check the late mail before finalising your squad in time for Round 1.
Good luck, and keep Dreaming...