It's another massive week for Dream Team, with just two rounds remaining this season. For those in head-to-head leagues it's time for the grand final qualifiers, while those at the top of the overall ladder will be cursing themselves if they've run out of trades with a few big injuries and omissions this week.
This week in a bumper edition of Q&A I'll analyse the best potential replacements for a few stars who are out of action – namely Robbie Farah, Issac Luke and Konrad Hurrell.
And for those who are already focusing on the upcoming Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals competition, I've picked out five players who look to be good value for money at this stage. Skip down to that section if you're not concerned with the Farah/Luke/Hurrell question this week.
From Johnny Hadchiti (on Twitter)
Is Mitch Rein the man to replace Farah on my bench? With no Cameron King, he's playing 80 minutes and is a high scoring option lately.
The search for a new hooker will be the main trade for a lot of Dream Teamers this week, with Robbie Farah out for the final two weeks of the DT season and Issac Luke dropped by the Bunnies this week.
Rein is a strong option at the moment, particularly if this will be your final trade, while Kevin Kingston is a cheaper target and could free up cash to use on another trade elsewhere. Here's my rundown of five of the best buys at hooker, with their recent form.
Josh Reynolds, Bulldogs, $317,900
Last four scores: 79, 58, 50, 58
The primary playmaker for the league-leading Bulldogs, Reynolds is an all-round scorer getting points through tries, try assists, tackle breaks, offloads and kick metres. Has scored less than 40 four times this season, but also has three scores of 70 or better. If you think the Bulldogs are set for a big win, he could be your man. On the other hand, rumours the Dogs could be resting a few stars this week suggest that Reynolds may not get his usual attacking opportunities, which could hurt his scores. The final Bulldogs lineup will be announced before lockout on Friday night, so consider checking the team before making the call on Reynolds (and any other Bulldogs players, for that matter).
Andrew McCullough, Broncos, $317,300
Last four scores: 65, 59, 60, 54
A rock solid defender, who tends to make about 50 tackles a game. A very safe decision for a 50+ point player, but won't get you those monster scores.
Mitch Rein, Dragons, $314,00
Last four scores: 40, 52, 77, 69
A couple of huge scores in the past fortnight have a lot of people looking at Rein as a trade target this week, and with good reason. The absence of Cameron King on the bench means Rein is now the only hooker in the Dragons' 17, and he played the full 80 last week. He does have an eye for a try, and has found the line in both the last two weeks.
Kevin Kingston, Panthers, $268,800
Last four scores: 58, 31, 42, 58
Scores his points primarily through tackles, with tackle counts ranging from the low 40s to the high 50s. A very solid option, and frees up a bit of cash as well.
Nathan Peats, Rabbitohs, $246,800
Last four scores: 70, 40, 30, 42
With Issac Luke out of action Peats could play the full 80 this week, both at hooker and in the second row. He's played full games four times this season, and posted scores of 43, 60, 70 and 40 in those weeks. Still, he's not as consistent as the other options and could be a risk with Luke a strong chance to make a return in Round 26.
From Josh Hart (on Facebook)
Is there any chance of Hurrell playing? How come he didn't play last week?
Hurrell was dropped last weekend and looks like missing out again, with the late mail suggesting the Warriors will be 1-17 (with Hurrell named 18th man this week). The one chance for Hurrell fans is the arrival of Tony Iro as new Warriors coach, following the sacking of Brian McClennan this week, but it's still a gamble to keep the rookie in your side this week.
4PM UPDATE: Konrad Hurrell has since tweeted that he will line up for the Warriors on Saturday.
There are plenty of trade options, although have some spare salary cap room will be very handy. Here are a few of the best.
Ben Barba, Bulldogs, $307,500
Last four scores: 76, 39, 58, 47
He just keeps scoring tries, which has made him a terrific buy in the second half of the season (and a very handy recruit for the Scouts) but is probably priced out of contention now. There are also some rumours around that he could be one of the Bulldogs stars to get a rest in the next week or two.
Matt Bowen, Cowboys, $282,600
Last four scores: 40, 61, 51, 34
Combines a great running game with kick metres and a lot of try assists. But beware, last week he scored one try, set up two, and still only scored 34 points.
Todd Carney, Sharks, $276,400
Last four scores: -6, 93, 28, 53
About 45% of Dream Team coaches have him already. Inconsistent but great on his day (as his recent scores show).
Josh Dugan, Raiders, $276,000
Last four scores: 38, 76, 44, 41
A strong tackle-breaking ball-runner at the back for Canberra, and he could be a beneficiary this weekend against the Bulldogs if the rumours of Des Hasler resting a few players proves to be true. Fairly consistent as well for a fullback.
Billy Slater, Storm, $251,900
Last four scores: 22, 50, 52, 25
A wonderful player, but a bit flaky in Dream Team. Could also be given a rest by Craig Bellamy before the finals. Probably best to avoid.
Krisnan Inu, Bulldogs, $235,600 (also available in the centres)
Last four scores: 41, 41, 43, 63
Inu's been a dream mid-season recruit for the Dogs and has been surprisingly consistent in Dream Team, scoring tries, busting tackles and kicking goals. A good option at an affordable price.
Lachlan Coote, Panthers, $217,600
Last four scores: 51, 33, 36, 78
A strong performer since switching to five-eighth for Penrith, where his tackle counts (and missed tackle counts) have gone up. Made nine tackle busts and ran for 140 metres last week. A good, cheap option.
Jake Mullaney, Eels, $172,800
Last four scores: 53, 55, 23, 31
A risky move, sure, but the Eels rookie is still very cheap, and has proven he can pump out a handy 50 on any given week.
Michael Jennings, Panthers, $262,500
Last four scores: 63, 55, 26, 31
A great ball-runner but very reliant on tackle breaks and tries. Consider him though if you think the Panthers can put some points past the Titans at home this weekend.
Greg Inglis, Rabbitohs, $261,400
Last four scores: 35, 53, 62, 43
Was on fire in the middle of the season and is always capable of a big one. A strong performer for the Scouts.
Jamie Lyon, Sea Eagles, $237,100
Last four scores: 42, 51, 41, 27
As a goal-kicking centre who does a decent amount of defensive work and sets up the odd try, Lyon's a very consistent outside back (despite last week's 27).
Justin Hodges, Broncos, $209,300
Last four scores: 6, 24, 32, 86
Exploded into action last week and is very cheap for a player capable of hitting an 86. A gamble, but could be a smart one if cash is tight.
Josh Morris, Bulldogs, $161,100
Last four scores: 41, 5, 15, 18
A recent form dip (essentially an absence of tries or tackle breaks) has meant Morris's price has nosedived – making the Dogs centre great value right now, and a good option if you need to find a cheap replacement for Hurrell. Last month Morris posted scores of 79, 47, 39 and 41, so is certainly capable of scoring some points.
Now, onto Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals.
When hunting for value players in Finals Dream Team, it's no longer a case of digging out those $77,100 rookies who will make their mark. Those players have already come and gone this season, and even if there were some still around the finals is all about scoring points, not finding cash cows.
Player prices in Toyota NRL Finals Dream Team were set when the game launched after Round 22, and won't change at all for the duration of the game. So, to spot the best value players, look for those who have hit a good patch of form since Round 22.
As a few examples, here are some players whose scores in the past couple of weeks (Round 23 and 24) are well above their season scoring averages.
Ben Te'o (centre, second row)
Average score after Round 22: 31.06
Last two scores: 73 & 81
Josh Jackson (second row)
Average after Round 22: 33.2
Last two scores: 67 & 37
Krisnan Inu (winger/fullback, centre)
Average after Round 22: 38.3
Last two scores: 43 & 63
Andrew Fifita (front row)
Average after Round 22: 46.7 (including a 103 in Rd 22)
Last two scores: 53 & 59
Corey Norman (half, winger/fullback)
Average after Round 22: 38.25
Last two scores: 52 & 57
I'm not saying all these guys are must-haves, or that they'll necessarily post a big score in Week 1 of the finals series. I'm just suggesting the kind of players you should keep an eye out for when finalising your Finals team. (I'll be dodging Norman, for instance, if only because of the headaches he's caused my team this season.)
As I said last week, looking at the match-ups for Week 1 of the finals will also be crucial, with players from winning teams generally scoring well in Dream Team.
So good luck with finalising your lineup, and here's hoping for an injury-free weekend.
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