It's the final round of Holden NRL Dream Team for 2013, so it's all or nothing for those Dream Teamers who are still in the race this weekend. Don't forget, Round 26 begins tonight (Thursday) with the Bulldogs taking on the Broncos – and Ben Barba is a likely late inclusion for the Dogs.
If you've been knocked out of your head-to-head league, don't worry: Holden NRL Finals Dream Team is about to arrive, with a brand new $3000 prize for the winner of that competition. Keep an eye out for the game and start planning your 13-man finals lineup now.
Before I get to your feedback on potential improvements to Dream Team in 2014, here are my answers to a couple of questions that have cropped up this week.
Who's the best replacement for Paul Gallen?
There was always going to be one final twist for Dream Teamers in the final week of the season, but after a couple of months of injury dramas it was a suspension that had the last say with gun forward Paul Gallen sidelined for Round 26.
For the lucky few of you who are still in contention and still have trades left, the best Gallen replacements, in order, are Andrew Fifita (he will cost you an extra $58,400), Corey Parker, Josh McGuire, Sam Burgess, James Graham, Gavin Cooper and Ryan James.
Who's the best captain to pick this week?
With Gallen out, I like Fifita's chances of running up a big score against the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday night. As I wrote a month ago, Fifita has averaged about 74 points a game this season when the Sharks were missing Gallen.
Cameron Smith is the best player in the game but could have a quiet one in the week before the finals with the Storm guaranteed a top four spot (he's also coming off a season-low score of 45), while Corey Parker's Broncos are out of finals contention. I wouldn't write off either of these two altogether, but think Fifita just shades them as the man most likely to score big this week.
Of course, there's always the chance of players being rested in the last round of the regular season, so keep an eye on the late mail across the weekend for the final confirmed teams.
Meanwhile I've had plenty of feedback on possible changes to the game next season, which will be considered by the powers that be during the off-season. Here are the best – or at least most interesting – ideas sent through to me in the past couple of weeks.
Suggested scoring changes
- Points for bombs/kicks defused and try saves were the most popular suggested additions.
- Other suggestions: points for kickers who force drop-outs, one-on-one strips, and intercepts.
- Many fans want the value of tackle breaks dropped from three points to two, with other attacking stats (like line breaks and try assists) going up in value to reward attacking backline players.
- Drop the cost of errors to -2 points, and scrap ineffective tackles.
- Then again, several Dream Teamers don't want any changes to the scoring system in 2014.
- More flexibility for dual-position players, meaning more than one positional swap per trade.
- There were a lot of views about the number of trades, but the overall opinion seems to be 34 for the season is about right. Most players don't want a trade "wildcard".
- Allow reverse trades during a round (ie. across the weekend).
- A surprisingly popular suggestion was the ability to "buy" extra trades using salary cap money. So DT coaches could get an extra trade in exchange for, say, $100,000 of their salary cap. It would help teams struggling with injuries, but still come at a cost.
Auto emergency solutions
Late team changes are sadly a fact of life in the NRL, and despite the success of the rolling lockout this season many of you still want an alternative to the auto emergency rule, which subs in the lowest-scoring reserve when somebody in your starting 17 doesn't take the field. Some good suggestions were:
- A nominated 18th man, who only comes into play if a player who was named in the Tuesday team lists drops out over the weekend.
- Three nominated back-ups by position (one outside back, one half, one forward) whose score will be added in the event of a late withdrawal from the relevant position.
- In saying that, we need to keep in mind that some rule changes can be exploited, as we've seen this season with the captaincy loophole...
Shutting the captaincy loophole
The so-called captaincy loophole has been a bit of a talking point this season, with the rolling lockout allowing Dream Teamers to have two bites of the cherry when choosing their captain. This is done by picking a vice-captain who plays early in the round, waiting to see if he gets a huge score, and then, if he does, making a non-player the captain so the vice captain gets double points instead. That sneaky play has drawn a bit of controversy, with a few suggested ways to fix it (if it needs fixing):
- Lock in all captaincy choices at the start of a round, or
- Award bonus points for vice captain as well as captain (eg. captain's score x2, vice captain's score x1.5) so people will make sure both their captain and vice captain play every weekend, or
- Simply scrap the vice captain. That would keep the scoring system the same, still allow for team changes over the weekend with the rolling lockout and remove the possibility of people selecting somebody as their captain after that player has played.
The Origin period
The middle part of the season is the toughest part of the year for Dream Team coaches, with byes and absent Origin stars making it tough to field a full team. There were a few suggestions on how to lighten the load:
- Have points scored by players in State of Origin games counted in regular NRL Dream Team.
- Reduce the size of teams during bye rounds (to say, 13 players rather than the full 17).
- Don't schedule any Eliminator match-ups on bye rounds.
There were a lot of other good suggestions as well, for Dream Team Draft, updating player positions, and plenty more, which will also be considered next season. I can't make any promises that any or all of these changes will come into the game in 2014, but a big thanks to those who have passed on your ideas.
For now, good luck this weekend if your team's still alive and we hope you've enjoyed another massive year of Holden NRL Dream Team.