In NRL Fantasy, the tackle-hungry forwards are the most reliable scorers, and the tackle-busting outside backs are capable of producing a big score on any given week. But it's the halves that are capable of being the best of both worlds – posting consistent scores through kick metres and busting out big numbers through tries, line breaks and try assists when they fire in attack.
Going by the 10 most popular buys in the halves at the time of writing, Fantasy coaches are looking at both big guns and bargains at this stage. But which playmakers are most likely to live up to expectations and which ones may flop?
Here's how I rate the top 10 popular buys in this position right now.
Mitchell Cornish (Raiders, $164,000)
Pros: A starting halfback with a great price, Cornish is an obvious target as a Fantasy cash cow this season. Scored 39 and 50 in his two games in the halfback role last season. If he can average 40 this season his price should climb past $350,000; if he averages 45 it'll get close to $400,000. Those kinds of price rises would make him one of the season's best Fantasy cash cows.
Cons: He's still unproven at NRL level and he has some competition (Josh McCrone, Sam Williams) for the No.7 jersey if he struggles early on.
Shaun Johnson (Warriors, $485,000)
Pros: He's just been handed the 2014 Golden Boot after leading New Zealand to Four Nations glory, backing up his best Fantasy season in which he boasted a super average of 54.8 points a game. Capable of producing something out of nothing in attack – meaning line breaks, tackle breaks, tries and try assists aplenty – and also the Warriors' dominant kicker in general play. Kicks goals as well, which will come in handy if the Warriors rack up some big wins. His consistency took a step up last season and he's expected to be more reliable than ever in 2015.
Cons: Johnson's history as a hit-or-miss Fantasy player – great one week, mediocre the next – may scare off a few experienced Fantasy coaches, and he is the second-most expensive half in the game behind 2014 breakout star Ben Hunt.
Mitchell Moses (Wests Tigers, $169,000)
Pros: Look at that price tag! Of the first-choice halves in the NRL for Round 1 only Mitch Cornish is cheaper, and Moses is a big talent and likely to improve in his second season in the top grade. Playing alongside long-time teammate Luke Brooks won't hurt either. And he's already shown what he can do with a stunning 62-point Fantasy effort against the Bulldogs last year, including a huge five try assists from fullback.
Cons: Moses is cheap for a reason, unfortunately. The youngster only planned 10 games last season, but he did play 80 minutes in all of them and averaged just 19.1 points a game. That average actually dropped to 16.25 points a game across the four games he played in the halves at the end of the year. Take out his 62-point score and his season average was a meagre 14.3. Those scores will almost certainly go up, but will they rise enough to justify buying him?
Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys, $484,000)
Pros: The reigning Dally M Medal winner is the best playmaker in rugby league, and is coming off one of his strongest Fantasy seasons in which he scored 54.6 points a game. Exploded out of the blocks last season with an 85-point effort first up, showing he can match anybody on his day. Boasted more try assists and line break assists than any other NRL player last season.
Cons: While he's great at securing attacking stats when he and the Cowboys click, he doesn't have the base stats (tackles, kick metres) of some of the other top halves – meaning he can post lowish scores in quiet games. He strung together four straight scores under 45 from Round 3 last year, and had three sub-40 scores in the second half of the season. He's also guaranteed to play Origin for Queensland, meaning he'll miss at least four games (including the Cowboys' byes) between Round 12 and Round 19.
Kodi Nikorima (Broncos, $128,000)
Pros: He's a little guy but a big talent, with quick feet and silky skills. The 20-year-old rookie is yet to play at NRL level, hence his rookie price tag, but he's already impressed fans at both Auckland Nines tournaments – and was even considered a possible bolter for the Broncos halves this time last year. And an injury to Darius Boyd leaves a spot open in the Broncos backline this season.
Cons: Will he play, though? The Broncos have splashed out on another skilful speedster in the halves in the form of Anthony Milford, and Jordan Kahu appears to be the man to replace the injured Boyd in Nikorima's other possible position of fullback. If a rookie doesn't play, he won't make any money for your Fantasy squad.
Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs, $476,000)
Pros: He's just led his team to NRL and Auckland Nines glory, taking out the Player of the Tournament gong at the Nines thanks to his precision kicking game. He's got very strong base stats in Fantasy, with big numbers for kick metres and about 20 tackles a game. Has an excellent bye schedule for Fantasy teams chasing overall points, with the Rabbitohs playing on all three major bye rounds – assuming he doesn't get picked for Origin. Probably the best goalkicker in the NRL.
Cons: Can he match last year's scoring? A half is only as strong as his forward pack, and Reynolds played behind the best last season. But that pack looks a little weaker this year without Sam Burgess and Ben Te'o, meaning Reynolds may not get the attacking chances he did in 2014. On the other hand, if Reynolds can match last year's efforts and the Rabbitohs do return to the top of the table, is he a chance of a Blues call-up? That would wreck his Fantasy scoring over the bye rounds, with South Sydney's Origin players to miss a minimum five NRL games between Round 11 and Round 18.
Ben Barba (Sharks, $269,000)
Pros: He's a big talent who's struggled to match his Dally M Medal-winning form of 2012 over the past couple of seasons, meaning he could be undervalued if he gets back to his best at new club Cronulla this year. He was a tackle-breaking machine in that glorious year at the Bulldogs, so there's always the potential he could become a Fantasy weapon again. After playing second fiddle to Ben Hunt in the halves at Brisbane last season, Barba may get a large slice of the kicking duties beside Jeff Robson this year.
Cons: There is little evidence from the past couple of years that Barba is about to become an NRL Fantasy star, especially in the halves. As a gifted ball-runner he's probably a better Fantasy option at fullback (a position Michael Gordon holds at the Sharks), and unless he takes on the bulk of the kicking in general play his Fantasy scores are likely to be erratic. His eight games in the halves last year resulted in three scores over 40 and four under 20 – making him a risky option.
Anthony Milford (Broncos, $385,000)
Pros: One of the biggest talents in rugby league, Milford is a one-man highlights reel and could propel the Broncos into premiership contention this season. Despite being an attacking player in a losing team last season, Milford still managed an impressive 43.5 points a game, with 12 tries and 14 try assists, and he's only likely to get more attacking opportunities at Brisbane.
Cons: The most reliable Fantasy halves are those who do the bulk of their team's kicking, and Ben Hunt is likely to resume that role at the Broncos this year. That means Milford will rely largely on attacking stats like run metres and tackle breaks – two stats which accounted for more than 55% of his Fantasy points last season – and while he was the go-to man as a fullback at Canberra he'll probably get fewer chances to run the ball as a five-eighth at a Brisbane side boasting several attacking options.
Luke Keary (Rabbitohs, $214,000)
Pros: Like Mitchell Moses, Keary is a big talent heading into his second season as an NRL five-eighth, with his club putting a lot of faith in his ability to shine in the years to come. At $214,000 he's a lot cheaper than most other first-choice halves in the NRL, and should only improve this year.
Cons: Like Mitchell Moses, Keary wasn't a big scorer in Fantasy last season. He averaged in the mid-20s, even excluding a 10-point cameo off the bench in his second appearance. He only managed to hit the 30-point mark twice, and both those scores included tries (worth eight points in Fantasy). His scoring will need to improve significantly this year for him to be a successful Fantasy buy.
Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers, $221,000)
Pros: The official NRL Rookie of the Year in 2014, Brooks has already been rated a future NSW Origin halfback and heads a group of promising young guns at the Wests Tigers. He's only likely to become a more dominant playmaker in his second full season in the NRL, and at $221,000 is cheap for a first-choice halfback. He's also worked hard on his defensive game, which was a major weakness last year.
Cons: Last season, Brooks scored more than 40 Fantasy points just four times in 21 games, and three of those scores included tries. He also had four scores under 10. Defence is his biggest concern – he made 220 tackles last season but missed 116, and those missed tackles cost him a whopping -232 points over the course of the season (11 points a game). His price is based on last year's 25-point average, so unless his defence improves significantly Brooks seems a risky proposition at this stage.
Which halves will make your NRL Fantasy squad?
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