The key to picking a good NRL Fantasy squad at the start of a new season is finding value for money. That means players who are likely to improve on last year's Fantasy scores, or players who are new to the NRL altogether.
One way to find those kinds of players is to take a close look at the big off-season player moves and see if they are likely to open up new opportunities for undervalued players. Here, I take a look at a few big transfers of backline players and how they could affect NRL Fantasy in 2016 – next week, a look at some important player moves in the forwards.
Titans halves rollercoaster
Aidan Sezer – Titans to Raiders; Ashley Taylor – Broncos to Titans
To say the Gold Coast Titans have had a rough 12 months would be an understatement. Not only have they struggled with off-field dramas and poor on-field results, but they also had a superstar signing in Daly Cherry-Evans slip through their fingers, lost an experienced playmaker in Aidan Sezer to Canberra and then lost impressive young halfback Kane Elgey to a season-ending ACL injury.
The result is that former Broncos rookie Ashley Taylor is set to get a prolonged run in the halves, alongside fellow Titans recruit Tyrone Roberts, and at just $134,000 ($4000 above the minimum price) he will be a very popular cash cow. Meanwhile Sezer ($415,000) has joined a strong attacking side in the Raiders, where he is likely to be the dominant kicker in general play alongside Blake Austin, and could be set for a score boost himself.
James Maloney – Roosters to Sharks; Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – Roosters to Warriors; Michael Jennings – Roosters to Eels; Dale Copley – Broncos to Roosters
With one of the most talented squads in the league and after taking out three straight minor premierships it's no surprise the Roosters needed to free up some salary cap space this season, and they've done so by overhauling their star-studded backline. Three big names in Maloney, Tuivasa-Sheck and Jennings are gone, opening up new spots for three potential value buys.
Jackson Hastings is the big Fantasy winner, starting the season at just $149,000 and almost certain to earn some big price rises as Mitchell Pearce's halves partner, while Blake Ferguson could post some massive scores if he gets the Tricolours' fullback spot and new signing Dale Copley looms as a cut-price starting centre at $171,000. Alternatively, if Ferguson keeps his place in the centres someone like rookie Latrell Mitchell ($130,000) could get his chance at the back... and then there's the talk of the Roosters trying to lure back a certain former Eel from the NFL...
Meanwhile, Maloney's departure to Cronulla also makes Pearce the undisputed chief playmaker at the Roosters, which should boost his stats for kick metres and try assists, while the presence of Maloney at a Sharks side that struggled in attack at times last year could provide more chances for Cronulla's outside backs like Valentine Holmes.
New club for the NSW No.7
Trent Hodkinson – Bulldogs to Knights
The signing of incumbent Blues halfback Trent Hodkinson is a coup for a Newcastle side still reeling from last year's wooden spoon, but opens up a few questions about the Bulldogs in 2016. First and foremost – how will their new halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye cope? Mbye is the cheaper of the two in NRL Fantasy but Reynolds looks like the real winner in terms of Fantasy points, having made more kick metres when partnered with Mbye in the halves in 2015. Reynolds also played several games off the bench last year when all three playmakers were fit, meaning he starts the new season undervalued at $334,000.
The Hodkinson move could have a flow-on effect for the outside backs at both clubs. A player of Hodkinson's quality should boost the try-scoring chances of Newcastle's other backline players this year, while the new halves pairing at the Dogs could hamper their ability in attack at least early in the season.
The centre merry-go-round
Will Hopoate – Eels to Bulldogs; Tim Lafai – Bulldogs to Dragons; James Roberts – Titans to Broncos; Michael Jennings – Roosters to Eels; Dale Copley – Broncos to Roosters
I've already touched on the Jennings and Copley moves, but there's plenty more to digest here. Tim Lafai ($244,000) had a quiet season by his standards at the Bulldogs in 2015 and has the ability to improve significantly this year at a new club – albeit one that struggled to score tries last season. James Roberts could go from a try-scoring entertainer at a poor team in 2015 to a genuine Fantasy keeper in 2016 if he gets even more attacking chances at a star-studded Broncos team. Des Hasler could get more out of Will Hopoate than he had showed at Parramatta in the past couple of seasons.
And Jennings' move to Parramatta makes the Eels backline one of the best (on paper) in the NRL – but will the NSW star be a boost or a burden to Eels try-scoring sensation Semi Radradra? Jennings is known for his running game rather than his passing ability, so if he plays inside Radradra on the left flank the Eels will pose a major threat there but Radradra's sensational try-scoring streak might come to an end if Jennings regularly opts to go it himself rather than use his winger.
Signing of the season?
Kieran Foran – Sea Eagles to Eels
Kieran Foran has been a champion player for years – and he's also been the best example of a player whose qualities simply don't convert to Fantasy football. While his Manly halves partner Daly Cherry-Evans racked up big numbers every week for kick metres, tackle breaks, run metres and tackles, Foran's impact on the field came from fearless defensive plays and astute options in attack. That made him a mid-30s scorer in Fantasy, while DCE regularly scored 50+.
But Foran may finally be Fantasy-relevant if he becomes the dominant playmaker at Parramatta, where he's likely to take on more kicking in general play. Meanwhile, Cherry-Evans is now arguably even more valuable at Manly – not just because he'll take on more playmaking duties with Foran to be replaced by a ball-runner in Dylan Walker, but also because he'll be playing behind a much stronger Sea Eagles pack this season. I'll have more on that pack and other key player moves in the forwards in next week's article.