All the key ins and outs for Holden NRL Fantasy heading into Round 8 of the Telstra Premiership season.
Dragons v Roosters, Friday afternoon, Allianz Stadium
Dragons: Joel Thompson returns from concussion, Leeson Ah Mau drops back to the bench, with Dan Hunt starting at prop and Jack de Bellin dropping back to 18th man. Michael Witt ($172,615) is proving to be a very handy cash cow after back-to-back scores in the 40s, while Gareth Widdop ($291,347) can't seem to string successive big scores together. Trent Merrin ($433,867) is a gun and a great buy for head-to-head but beware he'll miss at least four games between Round 11 and Round 18 if he makes the NSW Origin side.
Roosters: Daniel Tupou is back on the wing, so Shaun Kenny-Dowall returns to centre and Mr Fix-it Mitchell Aubusson is back on the bench after playing centre last week. The late inclusion of Daniel Mortimer – bizarrely the third-most popular Rooster in Fantasy this year – meant Jake Friend's ($348,384) stint as an 80-minute hooker was short-lived. Mortimer has been named 18th man again this week, so who knows if he'll get a spot on the bench or not. Friend will at least probably play the 80 on the three major bye rounds when Mortimer fills in in the halves, but beyond that he might not be the big-scoring bargain many Fantasy coaches were hoping for. Sonny Bill Williams ($333,695) flopped with 29 points on the weekend but should improve, while James Maloney ($288,552) finally earned a price rise after scoring a season-high 51, including a runaway try.
Storm v Warriors, Friday night, AAMI Park
Storm: Ben Hampton is back at five-eighth to replace Ben Roberts (knee), while Mitch Garbutt returns on a six-man bench. It was same-old, same-old for the Storm on the weekend, with Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater all scoring well and Jesse Bromwich ($360,493) hitting close to 50. Young Tonumaipea ($184,868) has pretty much peaked as a cash cow.
Warriors: Chad Townsend ($217,587), Jayson Bukuya ($243,338) and Feleti Mateo ($227,931) return for the enigmatic Warriors this week, with the injured Thomas Leuluai and cheapies Charlie Gubb and Dominique Peyroux making way. Konrad Hurrell is still nowhere to be seen. Sam Tomkins ($271,857) is producing some solid mid-40s scores to repay those Fantasy coaches who kept hold of him, while Simon Mannering ($276,873) is back to his old self and is probably Fantasy's most reliable centre and Shaun Johnson ($376,902) is averaging close to 60 over the past five weeks.
Broncos v Rabbitohs, Friday night, Suncorp Stadium
Broncos: Unchanged. Matt Gillett ($355,478) produced a massive performance against Newcastle, including a try, two line breaks and 41 tackles, to top Brisbane's charts last week with 90 points. Ben Barba ($226,571) also came up with his best game of the year with 64 points, while Ben Hunt ($388,439) is approaching must-have status after scores of 96 and 74. Corey Parker ($398,829) played lock on the weekend but still didn't get a full 80 minutes, and in fact posted a personal season-low of 43 points. His Fantasy value has dropped by $78,771 so far this season, and will drop again unless he suddenly scores in the 70s this week. And he'll play Origin. Despite all that, he's still in the top five scoring props/back-rowers this year and can play both positions, so he remains a keeper in my book – just. If you've lost the faith though and want to spend that $400K elsewhere then it might be wise to cut him loose.
Rabbitohs: After being pipped at the post last week Souths are boosted by the return of George Burgess and Ben Te'o. Kirisome Auva'a ($137,075) retains his spot in the centres ahead of Joel Reddy and should keep making cash for another few weeks if he stays there. Sam Burgess ($433,151) is the second-most popular player in Fantasy at the moment (behind the underpriced Nathan Peats), and for good reason after scores of 66, 76, 67 and 72 in the past month. Adam Reynolds ($337,277) continues to frustrate those who have picked him up ahead of the bye rounds with another score in the 30s, with John Sutton ($341,648) doing most of the kicking and looking the better bet of the South Sydney halves at the moment.
Sharks v Panthers, Saturday, Remondis Stadium
Sharks: Isaac De Gois replaces Michael Lichaa as Cronulla's interchange hooker this week, while Beau Ryan could be a late inclusion on the wing after being named in jersey 20 on an extended bench. Tinirau Arona ($270,567) might have done his dash as a cash cow this season, with Paul Gallen's surprise return last week coinciding with Arona's lowest score of the season and his first price drop. Now's the time to cash in on the hard-hitting big man – who has risen $163,567 in value this year. Gallen ($386,217), Andrew Fifita ($450,635) and Wade Graham ($281,602) all hit 60s on the weekend. Gallen and Fifita are both Fantasy guns but beware if you're playing for overall points that the pair will miss at least four games over the Origin period, including three between Round 11 and Round 14.
Panthers: Penrith have named an unchanged side, although Adam Docker faces a suspension for a dangerous throw. Elijah Taylor ($315,064) bounced back as predicted with 52 points on Monday night, while Jamal Idris ($301,665) fired up against his old club the Titans with 45 and Josh Mansour ($327,389) tackle-busted his way to 55. Peter Wallace ($242,049) was the star of the show from halfback and scored 56, but he still averages less than 40 in Fantasy this year so is not a genuine option.
Cowboys v Eels, Saturday, 1300Smiles Stadium
Cowboys: Robert Lui has paid the price for North Queensland's ordinary form, being dropped from the side with Ray Thompson shifting to halfback, Rory Kostjasyn moving to hooker and Anthony Mitchell on the bench. Kane Linnett replaces Kyle Feldt in the centres. Jonathan Thurston ($360,207) and Jason Taumalolo ($289,555) both scored much-needed half-centuries against Manly on the weekend, while Curtis Rona ($116,725) could be a decent short-term cash cow at winger/fullback after picking up 36 points in his first game of the year, although he may only get another game or two on the wing before Antonio Winterstein could be back.
Eels: Kenny Edwards is out for at least a month with a broken hand, with Pauli Pauli ($120,451) starting in the back row in his place and Peni Terepo moving onto the bench. Pauli is yet to hit a 30 but could make some decent coin if he keeps his starting spot while Edwards is out. Jarryd Hayne ($371,242) is the man for the Eels, reeling off 81 points in Parramatta's tight loss to the Tigers to take his season average above 50, while Semi Radradra ($285,400) just keeps coming up with the goods with another 46 points. It might be time to sell Will Hopoate ($200,847), who scored a season-low 19 on the weekend (albeit with one try harshly disallowed). Manu Ma'u ($281,315) has pretty much hit his peak price and can be sold over the next few weeks.
Bulldogs v Knights, Saturday night, ANZ Stadium
Bulldogs: The Bulldogs haven't changed their 17, although Greg Eastwood could start at lock in place of Dale Finucane as he did last week. Trent Hodkinson ($374,609) may have saved the day again for the Bulldogs against Souths but he disappointed a little in the Fantasy world with just 34 points. In seven games now the halfback has scored less than 35 three times and more than 60 four times, so chances are he'll bounce back this week – although a few consistent 50s wouldn't go astray. The Bulldogs will be popular for overall points Fantasy teams over the Origin stretch due to their bye schedule, with James Graham ($337,707) rock solid up front and Tim Lafai ($292,780, 56 points) one of the best options in the centres so far this season.
Knights: Kade Snowden is back from concussion and is a straight swap for Willie Mason, who's out suspended for the next couple of weeks. Jake Mamo ($111,924) made a solid start to his NRL Fantasy career with 28 points on debut, with Akuila Uate due to return on the wing in Round 10.
Sea Eagles v Raiders, Sunday, Brookvale Oval
Sea Eagles: Daly Cherry-Evans ($365,586) is set to return from an ankle injury this week and could be set for some big scores with halves partner Kieran Foran ruled out for a month – meaning DCE should get the bulk of playmaking duties once again. Anthony Watmough ($349,530) scored just 20 after picking up an elbow injury but has been named to play and remains a hold for the long term, unless you're desperate to make a change with an eye on the bye period now. After a slow start to the season Brenton Lawrence ($305,606) has now strung together three 50+ efforts in the past four weeks.
Raiders: The Raiders are unchanged. It's always a good week when you beat the Storm, and so it proved for Canberra's big names with Shaun Fensom ($437,164), Anthony Milford ($298,727), Terry Campese ($281,315), Josh Papalii ($329,180) and try-scoring hero Paul Vaughan ($296,219) all scoring well on the weekend. Cash cow Matthew Allwood ($165,952) even chipped in with 58 to ensure another couple of price rises, while Jack Wighton ($234,668) appears to have hit his peak.
Wests Tigers v Titans, Sunday, Leichhardt Oval
Wests Tigers: Liam Fulton returns from a shoulder injury while James Gavet will miss a month with a torn hamstring. The Tigers secured a great win against the Eels minus Robbie Farah, James Tedesco and Liam Fulton, with a host of lesser lights standing up. Eight Tigers players scored 40 or better on Monday, with dual position half/beck-rower Blake Austin ($168,101) set for a third straight price rise this week after scores of 43 and 40. Beware about buying Austin though: that first score came when Austin was filling in for Braith Anasta in the halves (Austin is now back to the bench) and the second was inflated by a try, so I wouldn't be surprised if his scores drop down to the 20s sooner rather than later. If you're planning to score well on the bye weeks the Tigers are another team (along with the Bulldogs, Roosters, Titans and Rabbitohs) to play in Round 11, 14 and 17.
Titans: Matt White will miss two weeks through suspension, while David Mead ($253,728) holds onto the fullback role for another week with William Zillman yet to recover from his hamstring injury. The Gold Coast's unlikely winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Panthers last week and the defeat took its tolls on their Fantasy scores, with halves Aidan Sezer ($327,962) and Albert Kelly ($348,384) both dropping in value. Ryan James ($252,797) was their best last week with 45 – including a try – but he remains on the bench where consistent scores will be hard to come by.