It's never too early to start planning for the next NRL Fantasy season, so why not kick things off by seeing who are the winners and losers from the 2016 NRL draw for Fantasy coaches.
How does the draw affect NRL Fantasy? It's all about the State of Origin period and the bye rounds. Every NRL team has two byes across the course of the season, and all Origin players (most of whom are also high-scoring NRL Fantasy players) must sit out the round preceding an Origin game.
Next season, those are rounds 12, 15 and 18. The bye rounds begin in Round 12 and go through to Round 19. So some Origin players will miss up to five games during the NRL season, while others will only miss the minimum three.
Meanwhile, non-Origin players who play in the pre-Origin rounds will be all the more valuable for NRL Fantasy coaches hoping to win the weekly and overall cash prizes next season.
So, who are the winners and losers from the NRL draw? I'll break it down for you.
Non-Origin players from Parramatta – The Eels are the only club that will play in all three major bye rounds in 2016, making them crucial targets for NRL Fantasy coaches hoping to climb the overall points ladder. The Eels are not stacked with noted Fantasy prospects, although Semi Radradra was easily the most valuable winger in the game last year, but their draw will now have Fantasy coaches strongly considering new recruits like Michael Gordon and Kieran Foran (who could finally become a genuine Fantasy prospect as his side's key playmaker). Note that these rounds will also be bye rounds in most head-to-head Fantasy leagues, so if you're only aiming to beat your mates in your head-to-head competition then you shouldn't get too excited about these players.
Non-Origin players from the Cowboys, Roosters, Bulldogs, Dragons, Raiders, Wests Tigers – These teams play in two of the three major bye rounds, so will be handy players to have for Fantasy teams chasing overall points or the weekly prizes. Players from star-studded teams like the Cowboys and Storm could also get larger roles for their clubs in those weeks with key players away on Origin duty.
Origin players from the Broncos, Storm, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Knights, Panthers, Warriors and Titans – These teams have both their byes in pre-Origin weeks, so their Origin stars (if they have any) will miss only one extra game. That means you can carry the likes of Corey Parker and Cameron Smith during the season knowing that you'll only be without them for one more round than any other NRL player.
Origin players from the Eels – The bad news: any State of Origin player who plays for Parramatta will miss at minimum of five games in the middle of the season. The good news: there aren't many Origin players who play for Parramatta. New signing Beau Scott played for the Blues last year but isn't a great Fantasy prospect anyway.
Origin players from the Cowboys, Roosters, Bulldogs, Dragons, Raiders, Wests Tigers – These players will miss a minimum of four NRL rounds during the middle part of the season – the three pre-Origin weeks plus another bye round. They could miss even more if they fail to back up from one or more Origin matches. It makes for a difficult decision about genuine NRL Fantasy stars like Johnathan Thurston – do you pick them at the start of the season with an eye on trading them out before Origin begins? Or take the hit and leave them in your squad during Origin? Or don't pick them at all until after Origin finishes? Fantasy coaches may be wary of buying other rep stars from these clubs at the start of the season.
That's it for me for now, I'll be back early next year with some early tips on bargain buys for 2016. Until then, check out the top 10 under-20s graduates for 2016, the 10 best NRL Fantasy performances of last season, pre-register for 2016 and keep some names in mind for when Fantasy returns early next year.