Just two weeks of Dream Team are left for 2012... are you starting to miss it already? Never mind, there are still two chances to win that $500 weekly prize for top score in Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals, plus of course that $3000 for the overall winner of the finals comp...
Before I get to a quick rundown on this week's best buys, a big thanks to all those who sent through suggestions during the week about how to improve the best fantasy game of all when next season swings around. The reaction to the game this year has been hugely positive, but it's good to see so many DT fanatics coming up with ideas for making it even better. Here are some of the best (or at least most interesting) ideas I've heard so far:
- Add new scoring options for taking a bomb on the full, forcing line drop-outs, and intercepts and try-saving tackles.
- Add more reward for running metres – say, 1 point for every 5 run metres rather than for every 10 run metres. So 200m gained = 40 points, rather than just 20.
- Make line breaks worth 6 points (not 4 as it is now, or 8 as I suggested last week).
- Increase the value of a 40/20 kick to 7 or 8 points.
- Make more trades available around State of Origin time, or make a player's score in an Origin match count towards your weekly Dream Team score.
- Multiply a vice captain's score by 1.5 (with the captain's score still doubled).
- Make it possible for a player's official designated position to be changed during a season – for example Josh Reynolds, who was listed as a hooker this year but played the entire season at five-eighth. The suggestion is, if you already have a player in his original position you can keep him there once his official position has been changed, but once you've traded him out or swapped his position you can't bring him back in that original position. So if you bought Reynolds as a hooker in Round 1 you can keep him there all year, but once his position had been corrected to half, DT coaches would only have been able to buy him as a half.
- Use rolling lockouts throughout each weekend, or make an auto emergency come from the same position as a player who is a late withdrawal.
- Another auto emergency option: award players 50% of their average score if they're in your 17 but don't play on the weekend, but only if they're withdrawn from their club side after Friday night lockout.
- Add minutes played to a player's stats breakdown, to give DT coaches a better idea of how much game time each player is getting.
- Publish a set of guidelines for how each statistic is recorded (what constitutes a try assist, etc) at the start of the season.
I'm not saying that any of these changes will necessarily come into place next season, but they're some strong ideas for how Dream Team can be tweaked in 2013. Personally, I like the idea of a rolling lockout as a way to address late team changes, agree with a few of the new scoring options, and am really coming around to the idea of doubling the points for metres gained – as a way of making the outside backs and front rowers more valuable (otherwise, the game does favour halves who kick and 80-minute forwards who do a lot of tackling).
Let me know your thoughts on any and all of the ideas – it's your game, so have your voice heard if you think you can improve it.
Now, here are my players to watch from each of the four remaining clubs in action this week.
Plenty of issues here, with Craig Bellamy hedging his bets by naming a 20-man squad on Tuesday. Will Chambers, Sika Manu, Todd Lowrie and Jason Ryles have been named to return from injury, but there are still doubts – particularly over Chambers and Ryles. If Chambers is out, then rookie winger Mahe Fonua is likely to come into the squad – making him a Dream Team steal at $74,000. Either way, Sisa Waqa will start on one wing and is another decent cheapie at $108,600.
Melbourne's 'Big Three' are all obvious targets – with Cameron Smith the safest bet as captain this week, albeit a pricey one at $316,800. If the Storm win, expect Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk to score well. Ryan Hoffman is the other standout in what will be his 100th game for the Storm, having posted an impressive 71 a fortnight ago with a cost of less than $200K. Five-eighth Gareth Widdop is a dark horse if you want to change things up with a cheaper option in the halves.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
The highest scorer in Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals so far is, surprisingly enough, rookie Manly winger Jorge Taufua, who costs just $152,700 and is averaging 85 points over the opening two games. Common sense would suggest that he can't keep up that kind of form, but the young gun is making a mountain of metres and plenty of tackle breaks and even if he scores 40 this week he represents good value.
Elsewhere, Brett Stewart is about the same price as Taufua and could have a big one if he gets some try-scoring chances in Melbourne, while Jamie Lyon and Tony Williams are both very solid options in the centres (T-Rex is also obviously available in the back row as well). After posting 64 last week Daly Cherry-Evans will again score well if Manly get the win, while prop Brent Kite has been in surprisingly good touch in the past fortnight, averaging 45.5.
If you back the Bulldogs to knock out Souths this week, there are plenty of strong options when it comes to attacking players in Dream Team. Ben Barba is an obvious bet as the most expensive of the remaining Dream Team fullbacks, while Josh Morris ($207,600) and goalkicker Krisnan Inu ($188,000) could both be high scorers in the centres. Five-eighth Josh Reynolds had a quiet one in the Bulldogs' win over Manly a couple of weeks ago but could explode into action against the Bunnies.
In the forwards, both James Graham and Aiden Tolman are rock-solid options in the front row (the cheaper Tolman actually outscored Graham in Finals Week 1, 45 to 35), while Josh Jackson remains a steal as a starting back-rower with a $129,300 price tag. Dale Finucane is the cheapest forward on offer this week at $74,000, but he is coming off the bench and only scored 15 points in the opening week of the finals. He may still be a good option though if you are finding it tough to fit all your favourites under the $2.7 million salary cap.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Again, like the Bulldogs, there are plenty of attacking players on offer here if you back the Bunnies to score some points this weekend. Greg Inglis is one of the best big-game players in the business (just ask any NSW Origin fan) and is averaging 62.5 in the finals after last week's 72. Halves Adam Reynolds and John Sutton both hit the 60s last week, Sam Burgess is just about a must-have in the front or second row, and Issac Luke is a genuine alternative to Cameron Smith at hooker again after returning to the starting side, where he scored 61 last week. The value buy looks to be Sam's younger brother Luke Burgess, who is starting at prop and scoring far better than his $131,300 price tag would suggest.
If you're doing well in your office league or in the overall race, or if you're just chasing the weekly prize, then Cameron Smith is the clear frontrunner to get the captaincy this week. He'll top Melboune's tackle count, kick their goals, bust a few tackles and probably set up the odd try as well for good measure. He'll probably get the captaincy in my team.
But if you're chasing the pack, you may need to get a bit more creative with just a couple of weeks left. Even if you concede Smith is likely to score 70, there are plenty of other options out there who could score 90+.
If things go their way, Greg Inglis or Ben Barba could score a motza in what should be the higher-scoring of the two games this week. Issac Luke is back in the good books at Souths and can expect a lot of minutes in a tight contest. Sam Burgess could do a James Tamou and threaten the 100-point mark. Any of the four key halves – Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Reynolds or Adam Reynolds – could produce big numbers if they lead their team to a big win. Tony Williams has been a bit of a sleeping giant of late but could unleash another 80+ score if the Storm defence isn't on its game.
If you're confident that Jorge Taufua's golden run can continue, then consider him for a captain or vice captain spot – but it's extremely hard to see any winger scoring better than 80 for three straight weeks. I'll have him in my team, but will give the C and VC to a couple of tried and tested big names.
Remember, a captain's score is tripled and the vice captain is doubled, so these decisions could make or break your weekly score.
That's all for this week. Keep an eye on the Friday morning late mail and check the final teams on NRL.com before kickoff in the Melbourne-Manly game on Friday night, and good luck with your team.