With NRL Fantasy now officially launched for 2015, here is a roundup of the best of the best; each club's most fearsome Fantasy player. Since NRL Fantasy coaches have to pick a player each week as captain to earn double points, the players below are more than likely the ones to look at.
Brisbane Broncos – Andrew McCullough ($523,000)
An increase in minutes last season allowed McCullough to become the busiest defender in the NRL, making a whopping 48.5 tackles per game. That also made him Brisbane's most valuable Fantasy player, averaging a tick under 60 points a week. The arrival of Bennett favourite Travis Waddell on the bench could bring McCullough back down to earth a little this season, and he's one of a handful of players to cost more than half a million dollars, but the Broncos rake is sure to make the most of his game time again in 2015.
Canberra Raiders – Shaun Fensom ($519,000)
He'll miss the start of the season through a knee injury but when Fensom is back he's almost a must-have in Fantasy, as one of just two NRL players to average more than 45 tackles a game in 2014. Canberra's human tackle machine is likely to get a lot of defensive work yet again this season with the Raiders tipped to lose more games than they'll win as the bookies' competition outsiders.
Canterbury Bulldogs – James Graham ($448,000)
The Englishmen is arguably the best prop in the game, with a superb workrate in attack and defence combined with a passing game that unfortunately goes largely unrecognised by NRL Fantasy scoring. You can expect a solid 50 points from the Bulldogs enforcer week in, week out, and the fact he'll be in action in the first two major bye rounds (Round 12 and 15) only makes Graham more valuable.
Cronulla Sharks – Paul Gallen ($554,000)
The Sharks and NSW skipper rarely has any trouble getting fired up, but you can expect him to be particularly passionate when he leads out his Cronulla side for Round 1 in 2015. After a horror couple of years for the club off the field, it's time for them to return to the fold as a finals contender and Gallen will be doing all he can to get them there. Does a mountain of work in attack and defence and is capable of creating try-scoring chances through crafty offloads and barnstorming runs, and while he generally faces a huge workload over the Origin period he's only scheduled to miss one NRL game this year with the Sharks enjoying a bye before Origins I and II.
Gold Coast Titans – Aiden Sezer ($337,000)
The Titans were a little short on genuine "guns" last season – none of their current squad averaged more than 40 points a game – but Sezer has enjoyed some big Fantasy scores in previous years. Granted, his price did drop by more than $145,000 over the course of last season, with the halfback no longer acting as the team's sole long-range kicker, but if new coach Neil Henry hands Sezer more responsibilities this year he could be a cut-price gun in the halves.
Manly Sea Eagles – Daly Cherry-Evans ($456,000)
A few nagging injuries in the first half of last season dampened DCE's Fantasy scoring a little, but the Manly halfback and Kangaroos regular remains one of the safest Fantasy halves in the game. A dominant kicker with a superb running game and a knack for notching solid tackle counts, Cherry-Evans is generally a 45-point scorer at worst and is capable of smashing 100+ efforts at best.
Melbourne Storm – Cameron Smith ($582,000)
The Melbourne, Queensland and Australian Test skipper is a long-time captaincy favourite for NRL Fantasy veterans. Arguably the best player in the NRL, Smith simply does it all – he makes a ton of tackles, creates tries, kicks goals, and rarely misses a game through injury. He's not quite the most expensive player in the game this year (that privilege goes to Tigers skipper Robbie Farah), but expect Smith to be the first player picked for thousands of Fantasy teams once again this season.
Newcastle Knights – Jarrod Mullen ($436,000)
Every 20 kick metres is worth a point in NRL Fantasy, and with 460 a game nobody gained more kick metres than Jarrod Mullen last season. Mullen's long kicking game has made him Newcastle's most consistent Fantasy player of the past few years and that won't change in 2015, with the speedy five-eighth also capable of splitting the defence and notching his share of run metres and tackle breaks. He ended last season with scores of 84 and 71, and if the Knights pick up where they left off Mullen could be up with the best halves in Fantasy.
North Queensland Cowboys – Johnathan Thurston ($484,000)
Coming off a Dally M Medal-winning season in which he topped the competition's try assist and line-break assist tallies, Thurston will again be in high demand as a mid-50s scorer in the halves. He also scores tries and kicks goals – he was the top pointscorer in the NRL last year – and thrives when the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders in attack.
Parramatta Eels – Anthony Watmough ($432,000)
No longer in a star-studded Manly pack, Watmough will be expected to lead the way for the relatively inexperienced Parramatta forwards this year. He averaged close to 50 in his final season for the Sea Eagles and starts the year as the Eels' most expensive Fantasy player, but how the new surroundings will affect his scoring is anyone's guess at this stage. In theory, Watmough could get more defensive work at a side not expected to be a premiership contender, while also being one of his new team's focal points in attack – meaning higher tackle and run metre counts. On the other hand, if Watmough fails to click immediately at his first new club in more than a decade then his scoring could slip.
Penrith Panthers – Josh Mansour ($450,000)
A Fantasy favourite from the past few years, Mansour is yet to play Origin but leapt straight into the Kangaroos side for last year's Four Nations after a stellar season. He's actually the most expensive winger/fullback in NRL Fantasy at the start of 2015, eclipsing even Greg Inglis thanks to a massive return of 7.4 tackle breaks per game. Those busts come at three Fantasy points a pop, and coupled with a huge number of run metres (170 per game), Mansour again looks like a great buy at the back this year.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Adam Reynolds ($476,000)
Got the monkey off his back by leading his team to victory in the biggest game of the season, and starts the new season as the Rabbitohs' most expensive Fantasy player following the departure of Sam Burgess. Gets a ton of kick metres, kicks goals from everywhere, and is a solid defender with about 20 tackles a game. Expect more mid-50s scores from the premiers' No.7.
St George Illawarra Dragons - Trent Merrin ($450,000)
The star lock has been holding out on a new contract with the Dragons and there's good reason why he'd be in demand, having led the club for run metres and offloads and ranked second at the Dragons for tackles last season. He's capable of playing 80 minutes but never did it in 2014, even dropping back to the bench for seven games in the middle of the season. He averaged a superb 62 points a game after half a dozen rounds but only 46 after that, so Fantasy coaches will be hopeful the NSW rep regains his old touch at the start of 2015. If his contract negotiations continue to drag on though he may find himself on the bench a little more than usual.
Sydney Roosters – Jake Friend ($477,000)
Tackles are the bread and butter for Fantasy points in the forward pack, and Friend leads the way for the Roosters with 44 a game. He was ranked third in the NRL for tackles last season, and can also cause damage in attack with three tries and seven try assists. His biggest drawback is the fact he's likely to miss the start of the season following shoulder surgery, so is will more likely to be one to watch later in the year.
New Zealand Warriors – Shaun Johnson ($485,000)
SJ just keeps getting better and better. The Warriors halfback ended 2014 on the highest of highs – leading New Zealand to the Four Nations title with a sensational display in the final before picking up the Golden Boot award. Once a hit-and-miss Fantasy player with the ability to dance through defenders or go missing on any given week, Johnson has become a more consistent playmaker, with a strong kicking game helping him to about 55 points per game last year.
Wests Tigers – Robbie Farah ($588,000)
It was largely a year to forget for the Wests Tigers in 2014, but the team's on-field struggles simply meant there was more for their tireless captain to do. Farah scored more Fantasy points per game than any other player last season, frequently topping the Tigers' tackle tally while also piling on the run metres and kick metres as one of rugby league's premier playmaking dummy-halves. He'll be another safe captaincy choice in 2015, but at almost $600,000 he doesn't come cheap.