The dreaded bye rounds have arrived, making this either the toughest or easiest part of the NRL Fantasy season – depending on your goal for the year. Do you want to climb the overall rankings, and finish as high as possible? Or would you prefer to focus on beating your mates in your head-to-head league, and be crowned your league's champion at the end of the season?
If it's the latter, then now is the time to keep the trades up your sleeve. Most head-to-head leagues have their own "bye" round this week, meaning you can kick back and effectively take a week off from Fantasy. That's because, with only eight teams in action this weekend and all Origin players sitting out the round, it's incredibly hard to get 17 players – let alone a strong Fantasy team – together this week. (You can still get your Fantasy fix through Origin Fantasy – just pick six players from either side, including captain and vice captain, and an easy $500 could be yours.)
If you are playing for overall though, you need to try to get as close to a 17-man team as possible – for this and the other two major bye rounds. You can make up to three of your allocated trades this week, as well as in Round 14 and Round 17. My advice is to bring in players who will be playing in at least two of the major bye rounds – that means Rabbitohs, Tigers, Eels, Bulldogs and Cowboys.
Here are the key ins and outs for this week's club sides.
Rabbitohs v Eels
Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis is away on Origin duty, with Alex Johnston covering for him at fullback while Joel Reddy returns on the wing. In a double blow for NRL Fantasy coaches, cash cow Chris Grevsmuhl has been named 19th man (with Jason Clarke returning to the side at lock) while Issac Luke has again been named on the bench. Both had been considered handy players for the bye rounds but could be sells now. George Burgess may have had a quiet performance on the weekend but remains one of the best buys for the Origin period, and twin brother Tom isn't far behind. Dylan Walker is a smokey in the centres, having dropped $95,000 in value this year and missed Origin selection. Aaron Gray is proving a handy cash cow with back-to-back scores of 41 – although he'll need to keep scoring tries to continue those scores.
Eels: John Folau comes into the backline for Will Hopoate, who has been named on the wing for NSW. Junior Paulo replaces the injured Issac De Gois on the bench. With Parramatta playing on every pre-Origin week Nathan Peats has emerged as a great bye-round purchase, scoring 65 on the weekend to take his season average past 50.
Wests Tigers v Cowboys
Wests Tigers: Star duo Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods are out and are sells for overall points over the Origin period. For head-to-head you can afford to hold them, even though they'll miss two head-to-head rounds. Martin Taupau is struggling a little of late but is still a quality buy for overall points, as is James Tedesco. Matthew Lodge starts for Woods this week while Dene Halatau will play at hooker, with Joel Luani the 19th man. Cheapies Delouise Hoeter and Brenden Santi are also on an extended bench. Kyle Lovett has hit his peak but is starting in the back row and is a hold for overall points due to the Tigers' bye schedule.
Cowboys: Origin stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou and probably Michael Morgan are out, and at least the first three are likely to miss four NRL rounds between now and Round 18. They are all holds for head-to-head but possible sells for overall points. Ray Thompson is back in the side at halfback while cheapie Sam Hoare starts at prop alongside Ben Hannant. Kelepi Tanginoa is back on the bench along with Rory Kostjasyn and Glenn Hall. Ben Spina looms as an Origin period cash cow, while Ethan Lowe is a strong captaincy prospect this week.
Raiders v Bulldogs
Raiders: Canberra are one of the teams untouched by Origin and will fancy their chances against a weakened Bulldogs side. Sam Williams remains in the casualty ward at this stage, with Mitch Cornish to get another shot at halfback (and another price rise in Fantasy).
Bulldogs: Blues Josh Morris, Trent Hodkinson, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer are out, forcing a few changes across the squad. Tim Lafai and Chase Stanley are back in the centres, while Moses Mbye is into the halves and Tony Williams is starting in the pack. Des Hasler has a lot of forward options on his six-man bench. The Bulldogs play on two of the major bye rounds, making Michael Lichaa a hold for overall points.
Knights v Broncos
Knights: With Beau Scott their only player away on Origin duty, the Knights have picked a good week to take on Brisbane. Tariq Sims is emerging as the best of Newcastle's Fantasy prospects this year, averaging 61 over the past three weeks to take his season average past 50. At $389,000, he's the second-cheapest back-rower in Fantasy with a 50+ average behind Iosia Soliola.
Broncos: It's that time of the year when Brisbane is forced to cope without a few big-name stars, although this is the only round where they'll play without their rep players. Darius Boyd, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker, Josh McGuire and Matt Gillett are out, with Daniel Vidot, Dale Copley, Jarrod Wallace, David Stag and Jo Ofahengaue all starting. Rookie forward Joe Boyce is the new name on the bench. Andrew McCullough is the highest-scoring Fantasy player in action this week.