The Downer NRL Auckland Nines gave NRL Fantasy coaches their first chance to see players in competitive action this year, with several players putting their names forwards as potential value buys this season.
Rookie wingers strut their stuff
The players who enjoy the Nines tournament the most are probably the rookie wingers who get their first chance to take on NRL opposition in a competition that's made for tries. Eels speedster Bevan French scored eight of them in six games to waltz into the team of the tournament and help his team to the title, overshadowing the terrific Semi Radradra in the process. Cowboys flyer Gideon Gela-Mosby already has a stunning try-scoring record behind him and was arguably the quickest player at the tournament, and also had Fantasy coaches licking their lips. But don't go rushing them into your Fantasy squad once they become available in the game – both their coaches have played down their chances of breaking into first grade in the short term.
The Eels backline is looking good
Even if French doesn't get a shot at the NRL this season, the new Nines champs suddenly look like a genuine attacking force in 2016. Corey Norman was a deserved winner of the player of the tournament gong, repeatedly sending both his wingers over for tries, and although he's not really a Fantasy gun himself his combination with new signing Kieran Foran should create plenty of chances for Parramatta's outside backs. Michael Jennings ($327,000) is one of those, and he's set to pair up with try-scoring machine Radradra ($452,000) on the left, but the real value could be on the Eels' right flank where Brad Takairangi ($210,000) is set to pair up with Clinton Gutherson ($134,000).
Bryce Cartwright is a superstar in the making
The unluckiest player to miss out on selection in the official Nines team of the tournament was Panthers back-rower Bryce Cartwright ($357,000), who dominated proceedings early on for Penrith. The NRL's most prolific offloader is a great attacking weapon for Anthony Griffin's side and he's capable of playing the full 80 minutes, which he did a handful of times last season. Penrith have a lot of talent in their back row now with Trent Merrin joining fellow big-minute players Elijah Taylor, Tyrone Peachey and Cartwright, so how they'll split the game time between them remains a mystery, but if his Nines performance is anything to go by it could be worth the Panthers' while keeping Cartwright on the field for as long as possible.
RTS might be slow out of the blocks
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was one of 2015's best players and is a massive signing for the Warriors, but aside from a good solo try in the final he was pretty anonymous during this year's Nines. Granted, he was playing with new teammates for the first time and he did play off the bench, but many predicted RTS to shine in the Nines format alongside Shaun Johnson and co. Could his slow start be a sign of things to come? He'll miss this week's All Stars game with a calf injury but should get a few trail games in with his new club between now and Round 1, but with a Fantasy price tag of $505,000 he could be a risk at the start of the season.
Bright signs at last for the Titans
Not only did the Gold Coast make the semi-finals, but their new halves pairing of Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts looked pretty sharp and they provided one of the best players of the tournament in Agnatius Paasi. The forward (he's available in the front or second row in Fantasy) did just about everything in the Titans' five games, with strong runs, a lot of offloads, a few try assists, three tries of his own and even a surprisingly effective bomb at one point. He hasn't been Fantasy-relevant in the past, averaging less than 30 points a game last year, but he finished the 2015 season with three 80-minute performances and two 50+ scores and could be an interesting left-field option at a relatively cheap $267,000.
Parcell on the money for Manly
The Ipswich Jets' dream season in the Intrust Super Cup last year – and their win over the Knights' NSW Cup team in the State Championship – will have a flow-on effect to the NRL this season with a number of the Jets' players being picked up for NRL clubs. One of the most promising is Manly hooker Matt Parcell, who scored late, match-winning tries not once but twice for the Sea Eagles on Saturday. He's battling former Panther Apisai Koroisau for the No.9 jersey at Manly this season and might have his nose in front now, and at $165,000 could be very good value if he starts consistently at Brookvale this year.
Is Ben Barba back?
No, I'm not suggesting Barba will turn back the clock to his old Dally M-winning form he showed at the Bulldogs, but if he can nab the Sharks fullback spot for Round 1 that would be enough for a lot of Fantasy coaches. Barba wore the No.1 for the Sharks at the Nines and was one of Cronulla's best, dancing his way around defenders a few times, and he'll start the new Fantasy season at the cheap price of $178,000 after being used primarily off the bench last year. He's got a battle on his hands to wear the No.1 at NRL level again with young guns Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird both keen on the role, but if Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wants to fit all three into his starting team then Barba would be the man to slot in at the back. Of course, Barba could resume his super-sub utility role on the bench, but with only eight interchanges allowed in 2016 using one or two of them on a livewire backline player could be a luxury teams can't afford this season.