The Telstra Premiership Finals Series is here, and as every NRL coach says it's a whole new ball game. That goes for NRL Fantasy as well, with a new competition giving budding footy fans and experienced Fantasy pros an equal chance of winning a cool $500 every week.
Here's how it works. For each game of the NRL finals series, you pick six players – one hooker, one prop, one back-rower, one half, one centre and one winger/fullback. There are no salary cap restrictions, and no restrictions on how many players you can choose from each team.
Once you've got a team, pick a captain and a vice captain – the captain will earn triple points, and the vice captain gets double.
Do that for all four of this weekend's games and if your teams outscore the rest you'll be $500 richer next week. That weekly prize doubles for the NRL Grand Final, with $1000 up for grabs, and the overall top scorer across the finals series will earn $2000.
You can also set up or join leagues to take on your mates, like regular NRL Fantasy.
I've already previewed the outstanding Fantasy prospects for each of this weekend's match-ups, but these are my main tips for success in Finals Fantasy.
1) Pick your winners, then pick your team
A good way to guide your Fantasy selections is to predict how you think the four finals games will play out first. If you reckon the Bulldogs will smash the Dragons, then make sure your outside backs in that match-up are Bulldogs players. If you think the Broncos-Cowboys clash will be a low-scoring grind, opt for a tackle-hungry hooker like Andrew McCullough over an attacking threat like Jake Granville. Predict how each match is likely to play out, then pick the kinds of players who will thrive in that kind of game.
2) Don't miss the big guns
Take advantage of the fact the salary cap restrictions are gone for this game, and make sure you don't miss any obvious big names taking part in each contest. Use the price tag under each player's name as a guide to how valuable they were during the regular season, and make sure several of your captaincy spots are taken by the genuine big guns.
3) ...But take a few risks
If you only pick popular big-name players, your Finals Fantasy line-ups are likely to look a lot like everyone else's. And any regular Fantasy coaches will know that there are a few surprise success stories in Fantasy every week. So, the key to success is making the right gambles on lesser-known players who could outshine the big names in a one-off contest.
If the Storm can keep Roger Tuivasa-Sheck quiet, then Melbourne's in-form custodian Cameron Munster could be a smart buy. Likewise, Cameron Smith has been struggling with illness ahead of Friday night's game – could tackle-hungry Roosters rake Jake Friend outperform the Storm skipper if the game turns into an arm wrestle? Could North Queensland wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo inspire the Cowboys to a win over Brisbane – and outscore Fantasy legend Corey Parker in the process?
Make at least one or two gambles when picking your Fantasy line-ups, and then cross your fingers that they're the right ones.
4) Keep an eye on the news over the weekend
Each match across the NRL finals has its own lockout time for Fantasy, meaning you can make any changes you like (including changing your captains) right up until kickoff for all four games this week. So if you hear news that a big name is out, make sure you make any necessary adjustments to your Fantasy side. For updates on all the confirmed finals teams for each match, make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Lastly, make sure you watch Chris Kennedy and Renee Gartner's Fantasy Finals tips on NRL.com each week (check out his latest video below), and keep an eye on the late mail. Best of luck to your team this weekend.