With Ben Hunt ruled out of Brisbane's Thursday night clash with Melbourne, NRL Fantasy coaches have one final hurdle to overcome at the end of a tough Fantasy season. With the overall race still to be decided and several head-to-head leagues playing their grand final this week, every decision will be crucial for those teams still in the running.
Here are my tips for this week, and remember to come back next week to pick your team for the opening week of NRL Finals Fantasy.
Who should we replace Ben Hunt with?
(From Jacob Newton)
Johnathan Thurston has been the best half of the season, but since you're asking the question I'll assume you've got him already and look at the other options.
Despite his poor 28-point effort last week I still rate Daly Cherry-Evans as a good option – especially if Manly are in with a shout of scraping into the top eight on Sunday. It would require the Wests Tigers to beat the Dragons pretty comfortably, but if that happened Manly would need to go all-out to post a big win and jump the Dragons on for-and-against. Last week the Sea Eagles were smashed by the Roosters and DCE still managed a try assist and a line break assist – he just didn't have much impact with his running game and finished with a season-low 178 kick metres. Against a weaker side he should rack up more attacking and kicking stats and bounce back to his usual scores, after notching 64 and 63 in Round 23 and 24.
Adam Reynolds is the other solid option, although you'd be relying on his base stats of tackles and kick metres against the Roosters (and if the Rooster win big Reynolds is likely to be as quiet as DCE was last week).
Which WFB should I buy for the final round: Milford, Munster or Dugan? I have RTS and Tedesco.
(From Kelly McKelvey)
Good question. Usually Josh Dugan would be the clear answer to this one, but Cameron Munster has been in sensational Fantasy form recently and Anthony Milford was brilliant last week. Munster could be kept under wraps by Milford's Broncos tonight, so I'd probably lean towards Milford who will have more playmaking duties on his plate with halves partner Ben Hunt ruled out.
Who should I swap Issac Luke for? Farah, McCullough or Ennis? Jake Friend is too hot cold.
(From Stuart Wallace)
Farah was brilliant last week, Ennis also had a big one by his standards, and McCullough is usually very solid. The guy you're missing from that list who plays 80 minutes and is as dynamic in attack as any of them is James Segeyaro, who should score well again with rival hooker Apisai Koroisau playing in the halves. Segeyaro's Panthers may be well out of finals contention but they are actually still playing for something this week with the wooden spoon going to the loser of their clash with Newcastle in Penrith.
I'd go for Farah if you think he can match last week's emotion-fuelled performance or Segeyaro if you think he'll cause the Knights defence some headaches.
I have Aaron Woods, who hasn't scored well in the past few weeks. Should I trade out? And is Mike Cooper a good buy?
(From Donald Sapias)
Woods started the season on fire with well over 200 run metres and 30 tackles each week, but after being injured early against Newcastle in Round 23 he's had a couple of quiet weeks by his standards with just 76 metres the following round and just 13 tackles in the Tigers' big win over the Warriors last week. Admittedly, there were a combined 22 tries scored across those two games so there wasn't much time for a player like Woods to make much of an impact, but he's also been getting more time on the bench at the tail end of the season (he usually plays 55+ minutes but only played 38 last week).
Cooper meanwhile is still playing big minutes, with 59 against the Titans last week. Since moving from lock to prop in the past couple of weeks his base stats have been down – he scored 35 a fortnight ago and 62 last week, with 12 of those points coming via a rare try and line break. He's still a decent buy, on par with James Graham, George Burgess, Kade Snowden and Jesse Bromwich, while Woods' tackle-busting teammate Martin Taupau could be the wildcard option if you want a prop to go big this week.
Who do you think will benefit the most next year from the 8 interchange rule Fantasy-wise?
(From Stephen Merriman)
Good to see you're already planning your squad for 2016. The short answer is any forward capable of playing big minutes who didn't play the full 80 this year. So that includes Trent Merrin, whose role at the Panthers is obviously a bit of a mystery at this stage; Shaun Fensom, who only started regularly playing the 80 minutes this season after Canberra lost Iosia Soliola to injury; Jake Friend, who could start playing the full 80 regularly with Jackson Hastings becoming a regular in the halves rather than a bench hooker; and even Corey Parker, who hasn't played the full 80 minutes once this season despite being the top-scorer in Fantasy.
The rule change could also lead to more tiring bodies in the defensive line late in games, which would create more attacking opportunities for tackle-breaking backline players – think usual suspects James Tedesco, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Anthony Milford, etc. So basically the reduction of interchanges will help forwards with good stamina and attacking players who can exploit tired defenders, which are the two types of players who already thrive in NRL Fantasy.