It may be too early to pick your 2015 NRL Fantasy squad but it's never too early to start planning, and with the new draw revealed savvy Fantasy coaches can already spot where the best buys will be in 2015.
The draw always raises a few talking points in footy circles but it should also be a crucial factor in your planning for NRL Fantasy – especially if you're chasing the weekly or major prizes on offer. Long-time players know that planning for the key bye rounds is crucial if your team is to scoot up the overall rankings, while even casual players out to beat their mates in private head-to-head leagues can benefit from a quick glance at the draw.
We'll start with those bye rounds. If you're in a Fantasy head-to-head league you have the option of playing or not playing on the three major bye rounds preceding a State of Origin game – Round 11, Round 14 and Round 17 – but if you're chasing overall points (and those weekly prizes) you'll want to know which NRL teams are going to be in action while most of the competition are kicking up their heels.
This year there are three clubs that play in all three bye rounds – the Rabbitohs, Eels and Wests Tigers. So first up, keep an eye on players from those clubs when picking your initial squad. With only eight teams involved in the pre-Origin weekends next season, those bye-friendly clubs will be more crucial than ever.
The Rabbitohs and Eels are also the only two clubs to play in all of the first 14 rounds of the 2015 season, with every other team having at least one bye before then. That makes players from those clubs even more valuable at the start of the year.
Once Round 14 arrives – the mid-point of the season, just before Origin II – it's time to change tack. Four teams will have completed both their byes by the end of Round 14: the Sea Eagles, Panthers, Sharks and Dragons. So plan on snapping up a few Fantasy stars from those clubs for the second half of the season.
Even if you don't care about scoring big points on the bye rounds, it's worth considering each team's draw when deciding on which kinds of players will thrive at different times of the year. In NRL Fantasy, the players who thrive are usually tackle-hungry forwards who get through a big workload every week, and attacking backline stars who rack up regular tries, try assists, tackle breaks and (for halves) kick metres. It stands to reason then that forwards will usually score well in tight games – or even losses – when they are forced to do a lot of defending, while backs will usually post big scores in Fantasy when their teams are racking up some wins.
So North Queensland's impressive forward pack – featuring three Kangaroos props and a group of back-rowers getting increased responsibility next season after the departure of Ashton and Tariq Sims – are likely to post some good Fantasy points from Round 3 to Round 6, when they take on fellow big guns Brisbane, Melbourne, Penrith and South Sydney (with three of those games away from Townsville).
Clubs facing similar tough stretches are the Dragons from Round 6 to Round 9, the Storm during Origin from Round 12 to Round 16, and the Broncos and Rabbitohs for the last six rounds of the season (see below for full details of these tough stretches). Having forwards from these clubs during those parts of the season – think Trent Merrin, Corey Parker, Jesse Bromwich and George Burgess – could pay off nicely in NRL Fantasy.
On the flip side, half a dozen clubs will enjoy a relatively easy run of games throughout the year. The Knights play four of last season's bottom-eight teams in a five-game stretch starting in Round 3, while the Panthers and Tigers both finish the regular season with five games against teams who missed the eight last year. Other teams with an "easy" run of games are the Warriors from Round 8 to 12, the Cowboys from Round 13 to 17 and the Storm from Round 20 to 24. Try to pick a few backline stars from these teams at these times to grab some big points (again, full details below).
So there are a few ideas to keep you going over the off-season as we count down for the return of NRL Fantasy in early 2015. I'll be back in January with some clues to some of the best buys of the new season, and then we'll have the Auckland Nines and the pre-season trials for new clues heading into the next Fantasy campaign. Happy planning.
Snapshot: 2015 NRL Fantasy draw analysis
Great starters (no byes until Round 15)
Good starters (no byes until Round 14)
Origin period buys (play on all three pre-Origin bye weeks)
- Rabbitohs (v Eels, Tigers, Panthers)
- Eels (v Rabbitohs, Storm, Tigers)
- Wests Tigers (v Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Eels)
Good finishers (byes done by Round 14)
- Sea Eagles
Tough runs – time to get tackle-hungry forwards
- Cowboy: Round 3 to Round 6 (matches against the Broncos, Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs)
- Dragons: Round 6 to Round 9 (Bulldogs, Broncos, Roosters, Rabbitohs)
- Storm: Round 12 to Round 16 (Roosters, Panthers, Eels on Origin week, Broncos, Bulldogs)
- Broncos: Round 21 to Round 26 (Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Dragons, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm)
- Rabbitohs: Round 21 to Round 26 (Panthers, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, Bulldogs, Broncos, Roosters)
Good runs – time to get point-scoring backs
- Knights: Round 3 to Round 7 (Titans, Panthers, Dragons, Sharks, Eels)
- Warriors: Round 8 to Round 12 (Titans, Sharks, Eels, bye, Knights)
- Cowboys: Round 13 to Round 17 (Eels, bye, Raiders, Sharks, Dragons)
- Storm: Round 20 to Round 24 (Dragons, Tigers, Titans, Sharks, Knights)
- Wests Tigers: Round 22 to Round 26 (Raiders, Knights, Sharks, Warriors, Dragons)
- Panthers Round 22 to Round 26 (Eels, Warriors, Dragons, Raiders, Knights)