It's less than two weeks to go before State of Origin and there's just one week left before the NRL bye period begins – a time of the year that leaves many a Dream Team coach scratching their heads.
Dream Teamers aiming to climb the overall leaderboard should be mapping out their plans for the bye period, while those just out to beat their mates in their private leagues can prepare to relax in a week's time with head-to-head match-ups taking a break for round 12.
Meanwhile the Eliminator competition begins this round, with a knockout competition for the first 65,536 teams who signed up for Dream Team this year. Can you be the last team standing?
Remember, this season all Dream Teams will be allowed to make three trades (rather than the usual two) next week for the bye round. Keep that in mind when deciding on this week's trades.
Now, to the week's big questions...
From Stuart Falconer
Hey Lone Scout. Who do you think is the better option, Isaac John or Robert Lui?
Isaac John has been the most traded-in player in Dream Team this week, but I prefer Robert Lui as a cash cow in the long term. Like John, Lui will also get his first price rise this week, but he's cheaper, he's got a better bye schedule and he has more reliable base stats than John. Lui scored 52 points last week (including a try) to follow up his injury-affected 15 back in round 5, and the early signs are that he'll do more tackling and kicking than John. Lui will also become the Cowboys' chief playmaker (alongside Matt Bowen) over the Origin period with Johnathan Thurston on Maroons duty, while John will presumably continue to play second fiddle to in-form Penrith halfback Luke Walsh. Lui will also play in round 12, John won't.
I know John's scores so far look great, but it's always helpful to take a closer look at a player's stats breakdown before making a trade. Most of his scores so far have come from attacking stats (three tries, a try assist, two line breaks and seven tackle breaks) from Penrith's shock win over Melbourne and their thrashing of the Warriors. But are you confident the Panthers will keep up their winning form?
Another player to start their season with a bang this year was John's predecessor, injured Penrith five-eighth Tom Humble. He started with scores of 21 and 53 and was a popular Dream Team buy, but after six games he was averaging just 23 points a game and his price had only risen by $27,600. John's scores are slightly better (34 and 66, including a hat-trick) but there's no guarantee that he'll keep that up. He'll get a big price boost this week but I'd be wary after that.
From Nick Crocker
How important is it to switch captains each week - or do you suggest pick and stick?
So far I've stuck with Cameron Smith every week. He's the most consistent high scorer in the game, so making any other decision would be a gamble. If you don't have Smith or Robbie Farah, or another reliable big scorer, then you've obviously got to think more about the captaincy decision every week.
The time when it will really start to be crucial is for the bye weeks around State of Origin, and for the post-Origin weeks (when Smith and Farah are likely to get some rests at club level). That's when you'll really have to analyse your other high scorers and predict who's the best option for any given week. Generally, attacking players (backs, tackle-busting forwards) score well against struggling teams, and defensive players (back-rowers, hookers, tackle-hungry props) score well against good teams.
From Arnold Villegas
Tohu Harris has obviously peaked. Is he a keeper though, even as a bench player?
Harris has been great so far this season but with Ryan Hinchcliffe returning from injury and bumping Harris back to the bench, it's probably time to sell. The one thing in Harris's favour is that he will play in round 15 and 18 – both being major bye rounds. He'll also probably get a starting spot in those weeks, with Hinchcliffe likely to start at hooker to replace the Origin-bound Cameron Smith.
So if you're playing to win your head-to-head league, then sell, but if you're playing for overall points then consider riding his slump now to get the points boost later (I'll probably sell him anyway).
From Nathan O'Donnell
Can you tell us more about Anthony Milford?
Milford's a big talent (as you can see from last week's two-try, seven-tackle-break performance) and is currently the Raiders' bench hooker/utility. Before last week he'd played between 20 and 50 minutes a game, but he played 64 on the weekend after Josh McCrone went down injured early in the game. He could get more regular game time now after last week's big performance, but he'll stay a bench player at best this season. He's also been competing for spots at Canberra with fellow hookers Matt McIlwrick, Shaun Berrigan and Glen Buttriss.
So he could be the next James Segeyaro, but there are no guarantees and after already making $71,400 in price rises he's now more of a mid-range cash cow than a genuine cheapie. He's only available as a half in Dream Team, so Lui or John are probably better bets this week.
From Luke Nivison-Smith
Is Josh McGuire worth trading in my team for Jack Buchanan?
McGuire's an interesting one at the moment – he's done very little this year, Dream Team-wise, but has been a gun in the past and will get more minutes in the next couple of months with Ben Hannant injured and the Origin period coming up. He does have a break even of 36 (which is more than he's scored yet this year) but if you need a cheaper option up front he could be worth the gamble.
Time to get rid of Jacob Loko or will his price still go up?
Loko's price has peaked for now but he's a genuine strike weapon for the Eels and is still a handy scorer in the centres. Because he gets a big chunk of his points from tackle breaks he'll never be a consistent scorer, but it was only a few weeks ago that he hit back-to-back scores of 56. If you are using him purely as a cash cow then now's the time to trade, but only if you don't have more urgent moves to make elsewhere.
From Luke Forbutt
LS, is it time to start saving trades or should we still be bringing in cash cows? What is a good number of trades to have left?
There's no hard and fast rule for how many trades you should have left now – it depends on how happy you are with your team already and whether you're playing for overall points or to win your head-to-head league.
Generally, overall points players will have used the vast majority of their trades by the time the Origin period finishes, while head-to-head players need to start keeping trades up their sleeve so they still have about eight left for the final four of five rounds of the competition (the "finals series" for head-to-head comps). Head-to-head players can afford to keep bringing in more cash cows, so they can bulk up their team with guns later, while overall points players should be trying to get a full team of keepers together as quickly as possible.
I can say that if you've been making two trades every week, then stop doing that.
The important thing, as always, is making your trades count – make sure every trade is for a keeper, a cash cow, or someone who will help you for the bye rounds.
From Benjamin Hearn
Is Ben Barba ready to be picked up? I have a bit of cash ready and I would like to get rid of my underperforming wingers.
Yes. He still hasn't lived up to the hype after last year's huge season but with a price tag of $249,800 it's safe to say Barba has bottomed out. He's coming off scores of 40 and 36 (his two best scores of the season), is still capable of ripping teams apart when the Bulldogs click in attack, and should be a very handy player for the bye rounds if you're playing for overall points.
From Jarvis Zochling
Hey Scout, is it time for Jonathan Thurston to go, with Origin just around the corner?
Yeah I think so. Thurston's one of those players who's a genius on the field but rarely converts his performances into Dream Team points. He doesn't have the defensive workload of someone like Daly Cherry-Evans, and for the past few weeks he hasn't been making too many tackle breaks either. Plus, he's about to leave on Origin duty, and his scores tend to dip over that period. I'd upgrade him to one of the top-scoring halves or pick up one of the cash cows on offer (eg. Lui , John, Milford).
That's it for this week, good luck to your team.