It's never too early to start planning your tactics for the 2014 Holden NRL Fantasy season. Having analysed the draws and bye schedules of all 16 NRL clubs, there are a few standout options when it comes to Fantasy players to keep in mind.
The big winners? Non-Origin players from the Roosters and Rabbitohs. That means international stars like Sonny Bill Williams, the Burgess brothers and Issac Luke. The Sydney arch rivals won't get their first bye until Round 15 – later than every other club – and none of their byes fall on pre-Origin weeks, meaning they'll be in action in the toughest bye weeks of the NRL Fantasy season.
Those tough bye weeks are Round 11, 14 and 17, when six teams will sit out each round along with every player picked by NSW or Queensland. Getting a full 17-man squad available for your Fantasy team won't be easy in those weeks, so having a genuine gun like Sonny Bill or Luke in your squad could be priceless. (Keep in mind that head-to-head leagues will, by default, skip those major bye rounds so if you're playing to win your league only you won't have to worry too much about the byes.)
The other teams who will play in all three major bye rounds are the Titans, Bulldogs and Wests Tigers – meaning any non-Origin stars from those clubs should also be savvy mid-season recruits. Think Aidan Sezer, James Graham and Tigers young gun Luke Brooks.
Of course you'll probably want a few State of Origin guns in your squad, so who are the best bets? Seven teams – the Storm, Sea Eagles, Knights, Raiders, Broncos, Eels and Warriors – have both their byes on Origin weeks, meaning any Blues or Maroons from those clubs will only miss three games in that period.
On the other hand, the likes of Greg Inglis and Robbie Farah will miss five NRL games between Round 11 and Round 18, along with every other Origin regular from the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Titans, Bulldogs and Tigers. If you pick up these guys at the start of the year, you may need to trade them out if you want to score well in the middle part of the season.
Finally, it's worth noting that Cronulla and Manly will get both of their byes out of the way by Round 14, with the Panthers and Tigers getting their second bye a week later. Look at snapping up players from those teams in the middle of the year with an eye on the back half of the season.