NRL Fantasy Team of the Year
Another season of NRL Fantasy has come and gone, with more than 115,000 Fantasy teams having fought out another tough season. Along the way bragging rights were won and lost in homes, offices and pubs around the footy-loving world, while a lucky few took out the official prizes and one triumphant Fantasy coach prevailed at the top of the overall rankings after 26 rounds and will win $20,000 cash plus a trip for two to the 2015 NRL Grand Final. A huge congratulations to John Keller, who has taken out this year's top prize.
But what about the players themselves? Which ones thrived, and which ones flopped? As we review the season that was, here is my 2015 NRL Fantasy team of the year – plus a few other Fantasy awards.
Fantasy Hooker of the Year: Cameron Smith
His title came under threat last season from Robbie Farah and Andrew McCullough but the Storm skipper had no real rival this year, finishing as the only hooker to score more than 60 points a game. Smith only missed one game all season – and that was due to Origin duty. An 80-minute hooker with big tackle counts, barely any errors, good numbers for run metres and kick metres and a goal-kicker to boot, it's no wonder Smith is basically the ultimate Fantasy player.
Fantasy Front-rowers of the Year: Andrew Fifita & Paul Gallen
Jesse Bromwich and George Burgess were both reliable keepers, playing every game of the regular season, but for pure scoring ability it's hard to go past Sharks duo Fifita and Gallen. Both men averaged around 60 points a game, with Gallen available in both the front- and second-row, and although they each only played 16 games apiece they were the men you wanted in your team when they were firing.
Fantasy Second-rowers of the Year: Corey Parker, Simon Mannering, Shaun Fensom
Ricky Stuart's hesitancy to play Fantasy cult favourite Fensom for the full 80 minutes each week didn't stop the Canberra lock from producing good numbers, but there was no doubting the effectiveness of Parker and Mannering this season. Corey Parker scored more Fantasy points per game than any other player, while Mannering finished atop the overall points tally. For the ageless Parker the combination of run metres, offloads, tackle breaks and tackles proved irresistible to Fantasy coaches, while Mannering's massive defensive performances after being shifted to lock this season made him a must-have in the pack.
Fantasy Halves of the Year: Johnathan Thurston & Ben Hunt
Johnathan Thurston is on track for another Dally M medal after arguably the best season of his career, and it was reflected in Fantasy points with JT being the top-scoring half in the game. Behind him was the chief playmaker of Queensland's other successful side this year, Brisbane No.7 Ben Hunt. Thurston's 28 try assists was six more than any other player in the regular season, while Hunt was an all-round scorer with 10 tries of his own plus 14 try assists, eight line breaks and a massive 426 kick metres per game.
Fantasy Centres of the Year: Josh Dugan & Iosia Soliola
Dugan's shift back from the centres to fullback at the Dragons this season allowed him to produce some dominant attacking displays, and his dual-position status in Fantasy made him even more valuable. Speaking of dual-position players, Soliola was the big pre-season tip of NRL.com Fantasy guru Chris Kennedy and the Raiders recruit repaid the faith with a string of quality 80-minute performances in the back row. He's unlikely to be available at centre next year, but Fantasy coaches loved having such a reliable scorer in their backline this season.
Fantasy Wingers/Fullbacks of the Year: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Tedesco, Semi Radradra
Tuivasa-Sheck and Tedesco were two of the year's big success stories: young guns with undoubted promise who nonetheless started the season with question marks over their names. How would Tuivasa-Sheck go in his new role as Anthony Minichiello's replacement at the back for the Roosters? Could Tedesco go an entire season injury-free? Both gave emphatic answers, with RTS stunning the stats men with 240 metres per game – easily leading the NRL in that category – while Tedesco made more tackle breaks than any other player.
And Semi Radradra? A return of 24 tries in 18 games, plus 25 line breaks and 170 metres a game pretty much tells the story.
Rookie of the Year: Jack Bird
Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird had a lot of hype in the pre-season and he more than lived up to it, earning a place in 48,152 Fantasy teams by the end of the year. A strong running game and a knack for finding the try line allowed the youngster to burst out of the blocks when given his chance – earning man-of-the-match honours with his first run in the starting side.
Fantasy Flops of the Year: Robbie Farah & Kodi Nikorima
It might be harsh having these two names in this category, but look, it's a harsh category. I've picked out two very different players here, and neither was truly responsible for their poor Fantasy performances, with their limited game time the biggest factor in both cases. Farah started the season as the most expensive player in NRL Fantasy at $588,000, but when he lost his 80-minute role at the Tigers his Fantasy value plummeted – by the time he was told he could leave the club after Round 24 his Fantasy price had dropped by more than $200,000.
Nikorima meanwhile started as the equal-cheapest player in Fantasy with a price tag of $128,000... and he ended the season as the equal-cheapest player in Fantasy with a price tag of $128,000. Along the way the Broncos utility somehow became the most-owned player in the game, despite not posting a single score above 30 until Round 26. With limited minutes off the bench behind first-choice hooker Andrew McCullough, Nikorima was never a good Fantasy prospect and ended up just taking up a slot in many Fantasy coaches' squads (along with fellow popular cheapies Eto Nabuli and Edrick Lee).
Surprise Packet of the Year: Cameron Munster
Jack Bird may have been the season's best rookie but by the end of the 2015 campaign Munster was the man who had risen most in value, jumping by $262,000 to $404,000 after Round 26. The fill-in Storm fullback made up for Billy Slater's absence with some superb late-season performances, averaging 63.4 over the last five rounds.
The Fantasy season is not done yet! More prizes (and bragging rights) are to be won in NRL Fantasy Finals, which kicks off this weekend and runs through to the NRL Grand Final. Start picking you six-man Fantasy team for each finals match up today.
I'll be back later in the week with tips for picking your team for the first week of finals Fantasy.