Another week, another big injury to cause some headaches in the Toyota NRL Dream Team world. The Dream Team gods may be testing our patience this year, but if you keep cool and use your trades wisely there's still every chance of putting together a successful season.
Think of it this way: there have been so many injuries and suspensions to key Dream Team players (Sam Burgess, Robbie Farah, Corey Parker, Tony Williams, Nathan Smith, Kurt Gidley, Shaun Fensom, Glenn Stewart, Matt Cooper, the list goes on) that everyone is pretty much in the same boat. If you're struggling with injuries, then feel safe in the knowledge that so is everybody else.
The key, then, is how you deal with it. Now's the time when keeping some trades up your sleeve might be the smartest move of all – most DT coaches have used up plenty already and will continue to do so, and the bye rounds are still a long way off. In head-to-head leagues having spare trades late in the season is particularly important – in your league finals one trade could be the difference between a grand final berth or being knocked out.
So start planning to keep trades to a minimum in the next few weeks, even if circumstances are forcing you to make one or two this week.
But before we get to how to handle the latest injury disaster, some good news: Corey Parker is back.
Of course, that's particularly good news if you were one of the smart/lucky ones to keep hold of him instead of trading. If you're not one of those, it could be worth waiting a week or two before bringing him back in (if you can afford him). He needs to score 95 points or better this week to avoid seeing his price drop, and the Broncos will start him off the bench this week as he eases back into the NRL. That means his lofty $427,000 price tag will drop over the next couple of weeks, making him ripe for the picking.
So what moves should you make this week? Well here are your options on what to do with Sam Burgess, Dream Team's most popular player (he's in the majority of teams), who has been ruled out for 6-8 weeks.
1) Keep him
If you've got enough depth, or have other trades to make, I'd strongly consider this move – if only because most of us have made so many injury-forced trades already. A lot of coaches kept hold of guys like Parker or Tony Williams, despite those two being ruled out for similar stints, and will be in the box seat when those players return to full fitness (even if their scoring takes a dip in the meantime). Like Parker and Williams, Burgess is a long-term keeper, so taking the hit and holding him now could save you a valuable trade that could come in handy down the track.
Holding him this week could also give you the chance to upgrade to a (slightly) cheaper Parker in the next couple of weeks when the Bronco's price takes a dive.
2) Trade him for a gun
If you've got some cash now could be the perfect time to bring in another big-scoring keeper. Jayson Bukuya, Luke Lewis, Nathan Hindmarsh, Feleti Mateo, Gavin Cooper, Chris Houston and Sam Thaiday are solid back-row options – and all bar Hindmarsh come at less than $300,000. Liam Fulton is also worth a look – he's dropped $25K on his starting price but his scores could rise over the next few months with Gareth Ellis injured for the Tigers. Josh McGuire and Trent Merrin are the standout props (despite being impact bench players for their clubs), and both cost about $265,000 ($40,000 more than Burgess). There is a slight question mark over McGuire's points now that Parker has returned, with Thaiday set to push back into the front row. Wests Tiger Aaron Woods is also producing solid scores (55 and 49 in the past couple of weeks) and actually comes cheaper than Burgess. Paul Gallen is in great scoring form, but he's hardly cheap at $391,000.
3) Trade him for a cash cow
Considering the number of trades you've already made this season, this one could be the riskiest move – but it could also have the biggest payoff in the long run. If your cash cows aren't quite paying off as you'd like, or if you missed out on some of the better cows at the start of the year, now could be the time to catch up. Yes, there is still plenty of value out there, with guys like Penrith's Ryan Simpkins and Mitch Achurch, Canberra's Sam Mataora and Manly's Jamie Buhrer (fresh from scores of 51 and 60) all set to get healthy price rises this week if they score any points whatsoever. Even Panthers rookie Blake Austin has managed to turn his frustrating Dream Team season around, following up his early scores of 11, 6 and 1 with an out-of-the-blue 41 last weekend. He'll also climb in value next week.
Now, onto a few other frequently asked questions from this week...
Why was Jordan Rankin left out last week?
You wouldn't believe how many times I was asked this one. Yes, Rankin was named at halfback for the Titans last week. Yes, it was expected that if Scott Prince made an early return from injury (which he did) then Rankin would shift to five-eighth and Greg Bird would return to the forwards. But instead, John Cartwright simply replaced Rankin with Prince at halfback, and left Bird at five-eighth.
Why? Rankin was coming back from a foot injury, and maybe John Cartwright opted to rest him, or maybe the coach just wanted to try out the Bird-Prince combination. Frankly, it doesn't matter. Bird is out injured this week, so Rankin will play.
Unfortunately, coaches sometimes make last-minute decisions that don't suit our Dream Teams. But you've just got to live with it – like injuries, it's part of the game.
What's up with Nathan Merritt?
Merritt's injury woe continues with his rare toe injury, with the Bunnies chasing up experts from everywhere in a bid to try to fix it. (Sounds like the problem is he has an extra bone in his big toe, something which one in 10 people have apparently.)
If you've got him now, and have a trade to spare, I'd look to sell. If he was regularly playing in the Rabbitohs' fullback spot he'd be in my team, but it looks like he'll only be on the wing when he returns thanks to Greg Inglis's impressive form in the No.1. Wingers are too inconsistent for somebody at Merritt's price, so look to get a cash cow, an established fullback or a dual position fullback/half instead.
Meanwhile Merritt's bad news is good news for those who jumped onto the Andrew Everingham bandwagon last week, with the rookie winger climbing $30,300 in value last week and guaranteed to get another price boost this week.
Where's Tim Grant?
Like Merritt, Grant has a niggling injury that refuses to go away. To the fury of DT coaches who picked up the Panthers front rower (who scored an impressive 45 in Round 1), Grant tore his calf in round one but treatment since then hasn't helped. He's now reportedly undergoing blood cell replacement therapy, but isn't expected back before Round 8.
Unlike Merritt, Grant is likely to see a healthy rise in value if he keeps hitting scores in the 30s or 40s (his break-even is 14), so if he's in your squad and you have some cover (something that may not be the case with Burgess now out) it's probably best to stay patient and hold him if you can, and wait for that price boost down the road.