Scout Report: Pre-season Fantasy Q&A, Part 2

The 2015 NRL season is just a couple of weeks away, with NRL Fantasy coaches across Australia and New Zealand tweaking their squads ahead of the all-important Round 1 team lists. 

Scout Report: Pre-season Fantasy Q&A - Part 1

Here are my answers to some of the big questions coming in during the week. Want your question answered on NRL.com? Ask me on Facebook or Twitter.

Could you give us an update on injured and suspended players that will miss the start to the season?
(From Mark Leonard Clark)

The early return of Shaun Fensom this weekend means there's one less Fantasy big gun who will start the season on the sidelines. The other key injuries to worry about are Cameron Smith, who will miss the first few weeks of the season after ankle surgery; Jake Friend, who could miss a couple of months after a shoulder reconstruction; Josh Mansour, who will miss a few weeks with a shoulder injury; Jamie Buhrer, who will miss the start of the year after knee surgery; Jamal Idris, who is likely to miss the first round with a back injury; Jorge Taufua, who is out for a couple of months with a shoulder injury; Kyle Turner, who is likely to miss the start of the season with a neck injury; wingers David Nofoaluma and Glen Fisiiahi, who will both be back in the early rounds; and James Tamou, who is in doubt for Round 1 with a neck injury.

Tariq Sims will also miss the first few rounds for his new club the Knights through suspension, while Darius Boyd and Nu Brown are already out for the long haul with achilles and ACL injuries, respectively.

For any other team info, don't miss this week's team lists for the upcoming trials and World Club Series games.

Hey LS, quick question: Is it good to spend all your salary cap when first picking your team or saving say $10k?
(From Peter Simmiss)

It depends. If you're playing for overall points you probably want every point you can get from Round 1, so spend up. If you're playing for head-to-head though then you can afford to drop a few points early on and give yourself a bit more room to make those crucial trades in the first few weeks.

The salary cap is tricky to work with this year but any spare space under the cap could come in handy if you need to make a slight upgrade somewhere after the first week of the season. I generally like to have a little bit of room to move after Round 1, as one or two "must-buys" tend to leap out at the start of the season, so try to leave a little space in your cap at the start of the year unless you're very confident in your Round 1 squad.

G'day Scout was wondering on your thoughts on Mitch Aubusson this year? I was thinking if he can get that starting back row spot to start the season he might be a bit of value, being a dual position player.
(From  Peter Minshall)

A wise man once said, "Always keep in mind the Mitchell Aubusson Rule ('Never buy Mitchell Aubusson')". But the start of a new Fantasy season does funny things to people. Despite a reputation as a quality footy player but a Fantasy no-go zone, Aubusson is currently in more Fantasy teams than the great Cameron Smith. And what's weirder is I am on track to ignore my own advice and pick up Aubusson myself.

There are good reasons why. Aubusson's traditional weakness in Fantasy was the fact he wasn't a first-choice starter at the Roosters so spent a lot of time on the bench, and his role as a utility player meant he was regularly switched into the backline to cover for injuries – and Aubusson in the backline meant few tackles and low Fantasy scores. But this year with Sonny Bill Williams gone and Blake Ferguson arriving to boost the Roosters' backline depth, Aubusson could spend all season playing decent minutes in the forward pack – especially if he gets named to start in Round 1. Even if he fills in for the injured Jake Friend at hooker he should still get through plenty of defensive work. If he can manage 40 points a week he'll make a lot of cash in Fantasy and be among the better-scoring centres available.

UPDATE: The Roosters have named their trials team to face Manly this week, with Aubusson again on the bench. The Mitchell Aubusson Rule may live after all. 

Are Euan Aitken and Eto Nabuli looking like starting Round 1 for Dragons? Also James Gavet or Adam Blair?
(From Zach Byrnes)

I'd rate Aitken a big chance, Nabuli a pretty good chance but no certainty, Gavet a decent chance of coming off the bench and Blair a certainty to start. Adam Blair's a bit of a mid-range player who hasn't been a factor in Fantasy, but the other three are genuine cash cow options if they get decent game time.

Who will play fullback for the Cowboys? Is Morgan worth buying if he plays five-eighth?
(From Nick Cussen)

The Cowboys fullback position is a crucial question for Fantasy, but either way I don't plan on buying Michael Morgan this year. Don't get me wrong, Morgan is a quality player and was outstanding for the Cowboys last season – but that's also the reason why he's not a great buy this season. Morgan's heroics at fullback earned him 37 points a game on average, meaning he starts this season worth $330,000. He's unlikely to improve much whether he plays at the back or five-eighth (Johnathan Thurston is obviously the Cowboys' dominant playmaker) so he's a rung below the genuine Fantasy guns at fullback or in the halves (who should average more than 40 points a game) and he isn't cheap either.

However, if Morgan does shift back into the halves it'll be because Lachlan Coote starts at fullback. For an experienced, starting fullback, Coote would be a steal at $137,000 – even taking into account his sketchy injury record. So Fantasy fans would love to see Coote in the No.1 jersey for the start of the season, where he has played in a couple of trial games so far. But with Robert Lui also available in the halves and Morgan having impressed in the custodian role last season, there's every chance North Queensland could stick with what worked and leave Morgan there this year, meaning Coote would be biding his time as a back-up player. Fingers crossed Coote gets the nod, but we'll have to wait for the Round 1 team lists to be certain either way.

Any tips for picking a good pairing for the centre position?
(From Daniel Taorei)

The centre position can be a nightmare for Fantasy coaches. For one thing, genuine centres score the bulk of their points through attacking factors (run metres, tackle breaks, line breaks, tries) so their scores are usually erratic. For another, there aren't as many dual position centre/second-rowers as there used to be, with the likes of Simon Mannering expected to play in the back row all year for the Warriors this season. 

The trap people can fall into is making constant changes to their centres, with very few players in the position likely to remain consistent all year. There are exceptions – Jamie Lyon tends to be a reliable scorer, while attacking weapons (and tackle-break merchants) Jarrod Croker, Tim Lafai, Dylan Walker and Joseph Leilua were all strong in Fantasy last season. 

I'd suggest looking for dual position players who will primarily play in a more reliable Fantasy position (think second-rowers like Mitch Aubusson or fullbacks like Josh Dugan) and for cheap players who will make money without needing to post regular big scores. There are a few rookies around, so keep a close eye on the team lists. The key thing here is to try to pick a group of centres and stick with them – unless an absolute must-buy jumps out from somewhere. Changing up your centres unnecessarily during the season is just a waste of trades.

What's happening with dual position status this year? Will players have it updated throughout the season again?
(Andy Donaldson)

Yes they will. The rule will be that players will be given a secondary position in Fantasy once they play in a new position four times – so players won't be given dual position status simply by filling in somebody else's position during the major bye rounds (see Tony Williams playing in the halves for the Bulldogs during the Origin series last year). 

There is still time between now and the start of the season for some players to get dual position status if they look set to play in a new position in Round 1. And of course several players have dual position status already.

How many gun keepers do you expect to fit into your starting squad?
(From Craig Finkle)

The short answer is: as many as possible. Always keep in mind your goal should be to buy keepers and cash cows – either players who are amongst the best in their position or players who will make money for your squad, which you can spend on more keepers down the track. Your aim should be to finish the year with 17 genuine "keepers" in your squad, plus a few handy back-up options covering injuries in all positions. You've got 34 trades up your sleeve during the year, which you want to use on covering major injuries or suspensions and getting the most out of your cash cows – not on upgrading mid-range players to slightly better players.

So, getting a bunch of keepers into your squad early on will obviously save you trades, and presumably help your scores at the start of the year. My definition of "keepers" roughly means outside backs who score 40+ points a game, and halves and forwards who score 50+ points a game. By that measure I have six keepers in my current squad, plus a few who I hope will make the step up to keeper status this year. Again, the more the better.

Hi Scout. Is it worth having Origin players in my squad or go for cheaper players that are going to play during that period?
(From Billy Robinson)

I don't think it's worth worrying too much about avoiding State of Origin players this season.

For one thing, there is still a lot of time (11 rounds) between the start of the season and Origin I – if you have Origin players in your squad you can trade them out if necessary before then. But I reckon it's worth holding onto most star players even if they do get picked for Origin. The majority of NRL clubs have both their byes in the weekends before an Origin game this season. Those are the weeks all Origin players sit out, meaning Origin players from those clubs (the Broncos, Raiders, Titans, Sea Eagles, Storm, Knights, Panthers, Sharks, Dragons, Roosters and Warriors) are guaranteed to miss just three rounds all season. Every player in the NRL will miss at least two rounds due to the byes in the middle part of the season, so there's not much difference between having an Origin player or a non-Origin player from those clubs.

It's a different story for the three clubs that play on all three pre-Origin weeks – the Eels, Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers. If you're playing for overall points and have an Origin star from one of those teams (think Greg Inglis or Robbie Farah) it's probably worth trading them out ahead of Origin as they'll miss at least five games in the middle part of the season. Still, that's not a reason to leave them out of your squad now. And if you're playing Fantasy mainly to win your head-to-head league, I wouldn't factor Origin in much at all when picking your starting squad.

How many star players are in your NRL Fantasy team?

Join your club's verified league
Broncos Verified League - League code: UX9XWZ52
Bulldogs Verified League - League code: NNLFKWSJ
Cowboys Verified League - League code: 9MMZ2V3T
Dragons Verified League - League code: SLFMPPW2
Eels Verified League - League code: YPHAD3AW
Knights Verified League - League code: CXZHNKS7
Panthers Verified League - League code: 2726PFX5
Raiders Verified League - League code: YMMVCYDF
Rabbitohs Verified League - League code: CNTSL2JH
Roosters Verified League - League code: HUKEX7VS
Sea Eagles Verified League - League code: FKJURRY5
Sharks Verified League - League code: LNDY53JJ
Storm Verified League - League code: MN4UFS7N
Tigers Verified League - League code: SKWJZM5N
Titans Verified League - League code: 5YR7NUFZ
Warriors Verified League - League code: PFFXJP49
Join the NSW Blues Verified League - MF6XX5SA
Join the QLD Maroons Verified League – SMPTXYHV