Want to build a successful NRL Fantasy side, and put your mates to shame? This formula is a good place to start.
1) The captain
The player you nominate as your team's captain each week will get double points. This is a rule you really should take advantage of. Try to pick one player who is a genuine Fantasy star who is almost guaranteed to get you a big score each and every week – someone like Robbie Farah, Cameron Smith (after he gets back from injury), Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, or one of the other top-dollar players available in NRL Fantasy.
Those guys cost a lot for a reason – they were the most reliable scorers in Fantasy last season. You're far better off having an expensive 60-point player as captain than a cheaper 50-point player – getting 120 points from your skipper is far better than 100 points, and having an inconsistent player as captain could cost you big time if they have an off week. Squeeze one of these big names into your squad, make him your captain for Round 1, and leave the 'C' beside his name for the long haul.
2) The cash cows
Once you've got a captain picked, I suggest picking up a good bunch of cash cows. Every Fantasy team starts with a $6.5 million salary cap, but if the value of your players grows during the season, that salary cap does as well. That's where the cash cows come in. Undervalued players can rise in price quickly at the start of the season – particularly rookies, who start at the minimum $128,000 price.
When picking a squad, start with the cheapest players you expect to get decent game time this season for each position, and work your way up. There are two obvious benefits of stacking your squad with cash cows: one, they'll probably make you money in the long run which you can use to bring in more star players; and two, they don't cost much so buying them frees up money to spend on a few gun players at the start of the year.
3) Getting the balance right
The easiest way to pick a decent 25-man squad is getting a bunch of decent middle-of-the-road players, but that's exactly what you don't want. You're far better to buy a squad full of cash cows and keepers – players who are among the best in their position, who you won't want to trade out all year. Every player in your squad should be either getting good scores for your team, or growing in value (or both). If a player is only going to score 30 points a game and his price is unlikely to change, replace him with a cheaper player who will make money or a more expensive player who you'll be happy to keep in your team all year. Your goal at the end of the season should be to assemble a team with 17 genuine stars – and that's only possible if you make good use of cash cows and keepers.
The other way to get a good balance is to make sure you've got decent players across your entire starting side. Don't spend too big on the forward pack if it means you'll be relying on mediocre backline players. Try to have at least one good scorer in each position at the start of the season, so you don't come unstuck if injuries strike.
4) How's your top 17?
So, you've picked a 25-man squad. The next step is to pick your captain, vice captain (the back-up if your captain doesn't play) and a four-man bench. The players who don't make your top 17 should be very cheap – try to avoid buying anybody who costs more than $200,000 who won't be in your team for Round 1. You're better off getting cheaper reserves, and using the spare salary cap space to upgrade someone in your starting side. Every point matters, and there's nothing worse than seeing one of your reserves score 50 when those points aren't going towards your total weekly score.
5) Do your research
Once you've got a squad picked you're all set, right? Not so fast. The key to a successful NRL Fantasy season is staying on top of the Fantasy news. Keep an eye on NRL.com for information on possible bargain buys and Fantasy guns. Is a young gun going to get a larger role at their club this year? You'll want to know. Is a star player carrying a niggling injury? You'll want to know that too. Stay on top of the buzz and you'll be able to spot the smart buys easier than the average casual fan – and if you're pressed for time, just reading my weekly Fantasy articles on NRL.com is a good place to start. (Want your questions answered? Shoot me a question via my Facebook or Twitter pages and I'll answer the best of them in my Q&A columns on NRL.com.)
And then, of course, you'll need to take note of the all-important Round 1 team lists. A few bargains will burst onto the scene in the week before the season begins, and you won't want to miss them.
6) Go with your gut
Found a player you rate that nobody else has mentioned? Pick him. Don't like the look of a popular big name? Leave him out. With cash prizes up for grabs every week, the more left-field players you can get into your team – known as points of difference (POD) in Fantasy circles – the better. If you follow the pack you'll just end up with the pack, so don't follow anyone's advice (even mine) to the letter. The best feeling in Fantasy, apart from beating your mates in a head-to-head battle, is seeing a hunch pay off – and one of the worst is seeing a player post a big score when you went against your gut instinct and didn't buy him. So when in doubt, just go with your gut and take a punt – it'll make the bragging all the sweeter when your punt pays off.
So what are you waiting for? Get your squad picked for the new season, or give it a fine-tuning as we close in on Round 1.
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