Scout Report: Grand Final Fantasy guide
Not only does Sunday's NRL Grand Final loom as a mouth-watering blockbuster between two Queensland rivals who have been arguably the best teams to watch in 2015, it also gives you the chance to win a cool $1000.
If you pick the best six-man "team" of NRL Fantasy performers this weekend you'll take out the $1000 weekly prize from NRL Fantasy Finals, while the Fantasy coach who finishes as the top scorer across the finals series will win $2000.
It's simple: pick six players – one winger/fullback, one centre, one half, one back-rower, one back-rower, one front-rower and a hooker – name your captain (triple points) and vice captain (double points) and if your players perform well on Sunday the cash could be yours.
But who do you pick? Here's my position-by-position guide to the top contenders.
Two dual-position players who made the transition from fullback to five-eighth this season loom large here – Broncos pivot Anthony Milford and Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan. Both have terrific running games and are in great form. Milford grabbed a try and six tackle breaks last weekend in a 53-point effort while Morgan scored twice in his return from injury for North Queensland. As attacking players they're most likely to score well in a winning performance, so your best bet is to opt for the one from the team you expect to win. Lachlan Coote is the dark horse here as a superb all-round fullback, although he'll need to make a real impact in attack to score well in Fantasy and has been relatively quiet on that front in this finals series. Darius Boyd is not a noted Fantasy scorer but made a very strong 61 last week with seven tackle breaks and a try against the Roosters.
Spot the try-scorer. There's not much between Cowboys Kane Linnett and Justin O'Neill and Broncos trio Jack Reed, Justin Hodges and Jordan Kahu in terms of Fantasy scoring potential, so this is a position where you really need to gamble on the player most likely to find the tryline once or twice. O'Neill bagged a double for North Queensland last weekend and cleaned up with 67 Fantasy points, so has recent form on his side, while Justin Hodges could be bound for a fairytale finish to his career after escaping the judiciary without a ban on Tuesday night.
Probably the most crucial decision in your Fantasy team this week will be which halfback to opt for – four-time Dally M winner Johnathan Thurston or Broncos star Ben Hunt. Thurston has obviously been sensational this season, finishing as easily the top-scoring Fantasy half of 2015 as well as lapping the field to win his latest Dally M, and with three try assists and a whopping 86 Fantasy points last week is in the form of his life. But Hunt has actually been the best performing Fantasy player across the finals so far, scoring 69 and 66 with two tries, two try assists and a lot of kick metres in his two finals appearances. These two are probably the favourites to take out the Clive Churchill Medal, so your best bet is probably to pick a grand final winner and then make the halfback from that team your captain this week.
No-nonsense forward turned try-scoring genius Gavin Cooper loves running off Thurston passes close to the line and scored two more tries last weekend, earning 72 Fantasy points in the process and making him the closest rival to Corey Parker in this position. But Parker is simply a freak, averaging 62.5 across the regular season and 60 in the finals. Unlike the backline players mentioned above, Parker can score well no matter how his team performs – he can rack up big tackle counts in a losing effort, cash in with offloads and goals in a big win, and gets a lot of run metres in a close contest. He's an obvious contender for one of your captaincy spots this week so it'll be a brave Fantasy coach who leaves him out.
The Cowboys may have two Kangaroos props in Matt Scott and James Tamou, but Brisbane duo Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair have actually outscored them in the finals series so far. Scott – who had the best average of the lot in the regular season – and Tamou were both very quiet last week, although they were given little to do in a high-scoring win over Melbourne. Before that, Scott racked up 56 points against the Sharks and Tamou made 52 against Brisbane in the opening week of the finals. Thaiday made 50 in that game and ranked just below Scott in the regular season. Blair has traditionally been a no-go zone in Fantasy, but has lifted significantly in his first year at Brisbane and produced some excellent base stats (162 metres, 32 tackles) against a strong Roosters pack last week. He's a nice point-of-difference option here in a tricky position.
Only take Jake Granville here if you're expecting a one-sided Cowboys victory. The dynamic dummy-half has enjoyed a few big scores this season and is more than capable of popping up with a try, but he's averaged just 26 during the finals series. Andrew McCullough on the other hand is a safe-as-houses tackle machine who tends to thrive in close contests – or even Brisbane losses.
Best of luck picking your team, and I'll be back with my selections on Friday.