Your biggest goal when picking an NRL Fantasy squad should be to find undervalued players – those who will make you money during the year with their price rises, as well as freeing up salary cap space to fit in a few genuine stars.
The best value players on offer are the cash cows – those cheap Fantasy prospects who can rise by $100,000 or more during the season. These are the players you need to effectively grow your salary cap throughout the year, allowing you to stack your team with stars for the crucial run home.
This time every year I take a stab at identifying a few of these cash cows, and the one guarantee is this: not every player in this list will be a Fantasy success story. Some won't get the game time needed to make much of an impact, while others might simply not score enough points. But get the right cash cows into your team and you'll be well on track to dominating your Fantasy league this season.
Jackson Hastings (Roosters half, $149,000)
Hastings has shown enough potential for the Roosters to allow James Maloney to leave for Cronulla this season, and with a starting spot all his own this season he should be a steal at less than $150,000 in Fantasy. Hastings will only have more on his plate for the first part of the season with Mitchell Pearce on the sidelines, so he should get decent scores and even better price rises.
Ashley Taylor (Titans half, $134,000)
A promising young Gold Coast recruit from the Broncos, Taylor will be sent straight into the Titans side after a season-ending knee injury to first-choice half Kane Elgey. He combined well with fellow new face on the Gold Coast Tyrone Roberts at the Auckland Nines and even if he does take a back seat to Roberts in the NRL he should score well enough to earn some decent cash.
Kirisome Auva'a (Rabbtohs centre, $139,000)
Auva'a returned from suspension late in 2015 and put in a few underwhelming performances during the Rabbitohs' late-season slide, so his price has plummeted at the start of 2016. Considering he averaged a solid 33 points a game in 2014 there is a lot of room for improvement for Auva'a if he can match those scores again.
Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers second-rower or centre, $134,000)
Chee-Kam has been considered a potential Fantasy cash cow for a while but after moving from Manly to the Tigers he's finally a chance of getting some decent game time. He's had injury problems in the past but is highly rated from his performances in the lower grades, and as a dual-position player in Fantasy could be a very nice pickup if he gets a role anywhere in the Tigers 17 come Round 1.
Ben Henry (Warriors centre or second-rower, $134,000)
Henry's average score dropped from 37 in 2014 to 17 in an injury-affected 2015 season, meaning he starts the new year at close to the bottom price. He can fill a role in the back row or centre, but his big problem will be getting game time in a Warriors pack that already features three starting back-rowers capable of playing the full 80 minutes.
Clinton Gutherson (Eels winger/fullback or centre, $134,000)
Gutherson is a recruit from Manly and looks like keeping Parramatta's Auckland Nines sensation Bevan French out of their NRL team. Those Fantasy coaches disappointed by French's absence can still cash in with Gutherson, who is very cheap after playing one injury-affected game last season.
Jayden Nikorima (Roosters half or hooker, $130,000)
Mitchell Pearce's off-field dramas may open the door for Nikorima to partner Hastings in a brand new-look halves pairing at the Roosters. Nikorima – younger brother of Broncos livewire Kodi – has plenty of speed and sharp footwork but will probably leave most of the playmaking and general play kicking to Hastings, so is no sure thing to be a big scorer even if he gets a start. But a half at that rookie price is still hard to ignore.
Dale Copley (Roosters winger/fullback or centre, $171,000)
Copley's not a big Fantasy scorer but after spending time on the wing, on the bench and in the centres at Brisbane last season he looks set to get a more prominent role this year after replacing Michael Jennings at the Roosters. His price is based on his 19-point average score last season – weighed down by his stints on the wing or off the interchange – but he averaged more than 25 when playing at centre. That suggests he has at least a bit of improvement in him, and if he gets more chances in attack (he only scored one try last season) that average could push towards 30 and earn Copley up to $100,000 in price rises.
Matt Parcell (Sea Eagles hooker, $165,000)
Manly's new dummy-half is set to share the hooker duties at the Sea Eagles with fellow new signing Apisai Koroisau, but if he can edge ahead of his more experienced teammate and get the No.9 jersey for Round 1 he'll be a very tempting buy. Parcell's in the Jake Granville mould of quick, attacking dummy-halves, impressing in his first run-out in Manly colours with a couple of match-winning tries at the Auckland Nines. His minutes will remain a mystery until the early rounds – even if he starts he could split his game time 50/50 with Koroisau – but with some decent stats in attack and defence Parcell could be a strong moneymaker as a hooker costing well under $200,000.
Jaelen Feeney (Knights half or fullback, $130,000)
Feeney is rated a strong chance of pipping Jake Mamo to the Newcastle fullback role for Round 1, in which case he'd likely also find himself in a lot of Fantasy teams at the start of the season. Feeney had a pretty strong performance at the Auckland Nines until he was sin-binned for throwing a ball at a referee, but the youngster has impressed in the lower grades and could be one of Nathan Brown's big changes at the club this season.
Latrell Mitchell (Roosters winger/fullback, $130,000)
The young Roosters fullback has already been hit with the Greg Inglis comparisons, and while that may be asking too much it's fair to say there's a lot of promise in the towering teenager. Blake Ferguson will start the season in the fullback role vacated by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but if Trent Robinson wants to shake things up after the early rounds Mitchell could get his chance.
Te Maire Martin (Panthers half, $130,000)
Martin was recruited as a back-up option to Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace at Penrith, but after a starring effort in the Panthers' trial game on the weekend could challenge for the No.7 jersey sooner rather than later. The youngster produced a ton of try assists for the Wests Tigers in the Holden Cup last season, and is capable of taking on the defence and bagging a few tries himself as well. Might be one to keep an eye out for in the team lists this season.