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Trent Merrin.

It's the penultimate week of the NRL Fantasy season and grand final time for most head-to-head leagues. Every decision is crucial for those Fantasy teams still in the running, so with that in mind here are my tips for Round 25.

Captain scores this year have been crucial! Who are the best options this weekend by the stats?
(From Toby Funke)

Corey Parker has the best average score of all NRL Fantasy players this season and he also boasts the best recent form with an average of 68 over his past five games. Assuming he plays his usual role in what could be a tough contest against the Rabbitohs in Sydney, you'd expect Parker to be amongst the week's top scorers again.

Simon Mannering is a handy fallback option thanks to his super individual defensive efforts, making 64 tackles and missing just one as the Cowboys piled on 50 points against his Warriors last week.

Beyond that there's Cameron Smith, who's been very solid with scores around the 60-point mark; Johnathan Thurston, who has been great recently but is taking on a Storm side ready to bounce back from a shock loss; and Paul Gallen, who will have scared off a lot of Fantasy coaches after making a season-low 31 points last week. 

If you're a rank underdog in your head-to-head match-up, taking a punt on Roger Tuivasa Sheck to go big again as your captain could be a smart move, as could gambling on James Tedesco against the struggling Warriors.

Are you worried that Bennett will rest his stars?
(From Dean)

Not too much. Firstly, Brisbane's clash with Souths in Sydney is another great rehearsal for finals footy after the Broncos' tight loss to the Roosters last week – so having the bulk of the team in action makes sense. Secondly, when Bennett rotated his team last week to give Corey Oates a run he announced it early on game day so with Brisbane playing on Thursday night we should at least know early on whether any big names will be out of action.

Who am I getting in for Elijah Taylor? Only got one trade left, plus $30k in the bank.
(From James Macbeth Dann)

The $30,000 in the bank means you can't afford the very top options in the second row (Corey Parker, Simon Mannering, Trent Merrin, Shaun Fensom, Paul Gallen) but there are some decent options at around Taylor's $341,000 price tag. Tyrone Peachey has been in great tackle-busting form after scores of 91 and 66 – although he's been named to return to the second row after two attacking performances in the halves. Leeson Ah Mau has reeled off three 50+ efforts in a row up front for the Dragons. Matt Gillett is averaging close to 50 for the season and made 48 tackles last week. Bryce Cartwright has shown he can post big scores when he gets heavily involved in both attack and defence. Tariq Sims scored 67 against Melbourne last week (including a try), and Jason Taumalolo has the ability to match that against the Storm this week. 

Manly forward Blake Leary could be the dark horse here – he costs just $289,000 thanks to a season average of about 40 but he made 48 tackles and 60 points filling in at hooker for the injured Matt Ballin last week. He's been named there again this weekend and could do a lot of defending against the Roosters... but just keep an eye on the late mail to see if Manly include specialist hooker Jayden Hodges in their 17 before kick-off.

With not having much cash to upgrade E.Taylor to anyone but Cartwright, would it be better to upgrade Lichaa to Farah this week, or will there be fallout with him being told to move on?
(From Nathan Boyle)

I like your thinking – although it's hard to predict how Farah will go this week after a tough few days. Farah hasn't been in great Fantasy form of late anyway (he scored just 27 a couple of weeks ago) but if you can afford to get the slightly more expensive Andrew McCullough ($387,000), Mitch Rein ($410,000), Jake Friend ($414,000) or even Josh Hodgson ($396,000) you could be in business. Otherwise who knows, Farah might be keen to send a message to the Tigers with a dominant display against the Warriors this weekend and come up with a try or two.



Thinking of upgrading Gurgess to Graham for an extra 15 points to win my H2H. Thoughts?
(From Kris McBride)

One trap Fantasy coaches sometimes fall into is chasing last week's points. For example, trading in a winger because he scored a hat-trick the weekend before, even if he usually has low scores. James Graham doesn't really fall into that category as he's an established Fantasy scorer, but just because he outscored George Burgess 64 to 45 on the weekend doesn't mean he's a guaranteed "extra 15 points" this week. Over the course of the season Burgess actually has a better average (51.6, compared to Graham's 46.9) although in the past five games Graham has been a little stronger (55 points a game to 50). 

When you look even closer you can see that Graham's recent big scores have come against strong sides the Roosters, Broncos and Rabbitohs, and his two season-high scores of 64 came when he made an average of 40 tackles. He might not get that kind of defensive work to do against a Knights side fighting to avoid the wooden spoon (albeit one that shocked Melbourne last week). Burgess's big scores also tend to coincide with big tackle counts, and he could make a lot of tackles if Thursday's Rabbitohs-Broncos game is a low-scoring arm wrestle. So there's every chance Burgess could outscore Graham this week. I wouldn't bother with that kind of trade, unless there's absolutely nothing else in your squad that needs improving.

Is Frizell > Merrin a sideways trade? I am sick of his 30s and Merrin has been killing it. Also, thoughts on B-Moz as a replacement for GI?
(From Shoayb Khan)

This is a little like the previous question, in that Tyson Frizell hasn't been that bad recently (he has a season average of 51 and scored 52 a couple of weeks ago) but Merrin seems to be back in super form since returning to lock and could be worth getting anyway. That one does look like an improvement of 10 to 15 points.

On the Inglis question, it's a bit of a lottery predicting his best replacement in the wing/fullback position with just two games remaining. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Tedesco are the two best options but probably out of your price range, and of the other contenders Brett Morris is certainly in great form after a couple of 50+ scores. 

The key thing for these guys is to keep in mind who they're playing against, as they probably need to make an impact in attack if they are going to notch a big score this week. That means the weaker the opponents, the better. So your top contenders are probably: Morris (v Knights); Josh Dugan (v Titans); Michael Gordon (v Eels); Semi Radradra (v Sharks); Cameron Munster (v Cowboys) ; Lachlan Coote (v Storm); Euan Aitken (v Titans).

Pick not just the player you want, but also the one who is more likely to score big against this week's opponent. I'd personally lean towards Dugan if you can afford him, but Morris isn't a bad shout either.

Can we start again?!?
(From Lisa Groen)

Yes! In two weeks NRL Fantasy Finals will kick off, giving you the chance to pick six-man teams for each game of the NRL finals – similar to Origin Fantasy and Test Match Fantasy. You can win $500 prizes in each of the first three weeks of the finals, $1000 for picking the top-scoring Fantasy line-up from the NRL Grand Final, and $2000 if you score the most combined points across the finals series. It's never too early to start planning your strategies for your next Fantasy campaign.



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