The four halves slots are crucial to the success of your NRL Fantasy team. Not only can the NRL's dominant halves score well in Fantasy through kick metres, try assists, tries, goals and tackles, but it's a position where relative newcomers can quickly become strong Fantasy scorers as well. Guys like Adam Reynolds and Daly Cherry-Evans went from rookies to genuine NRL Fantasy stars in their first seasons in the top grade, and there's no shortage of young guns getting their chance to impress this season.
Here's how I rate some popular buys in the halves this season.
Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys, $528,000)
The best player in rugby league is also the most expensive half in NRL Fantasy, and with good reason.
Pros: In Thurston's incredible 2015 season the Cowboys No.7 went close to scoring a massive 60 points a game. He produces more try assists than anyone, is a deadly goal-kicker, and has no competition as the dominant playmaker at North Queensland.
Cons: His price tag is the big one. Not only does it start high, but it's unlikely to get any higher – Thurston was just about as good as it gets last year, so if he suffers even a minor slump (or if the other members of the Cowboys spine take on more playmaking duties) his Fantasy scores and price could fall.
Ben Hunt (Broncos, $515,000)
The one-time under-20s sensation is now a bona fide NRL star as the chief playmaker for the competition favourites. Will Hunt finish 2016 as the best Fantasy half in the business?
Pros: Hunt's game is tailor-made for Fantasy – he's got a great kicking game and a deceptively dangerous running game that nets him a fair share of tackle breaks, run metres and tries. At Brisbane he's playing behind a strong pack and is likely to get a lot of attacking opportunities in arguably the strongest team in the NRL.
Cons: Like Thurston, Hunt is expensive and unlikely to improve much – if at all – this season. You only have so much salary cap space to pick a starting squad, so do you want to burn more than half a million on the second-best half available?
Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles, $482,000)
Manly's million-dollar man is worth less than half that in NRL Fantasy and could finish as one of the top-scoring halves in the game.
Pros: DCE was already a very strong Fantasy performer, doing the bulk of the kicking in general play at Manly while also being a threatening ball-runner and an unusually strong defender for a halfback. But with his old halves partner Kieran Foran replaced by a makeshift No.6 in Dylan Walker, and with a stronger forward pack in front of him, Cherry-Evans could get even better in Fantasy this season.
Cons: He doesn't come cheap, even if his price hasn't quite reached the half-million-dollar mark. And nobody really knows how well Walker will go in his new role at Manly – if the former Rabbitohs centre is a more dominant player than expected than DCE might not be so undervalued after all.
Shaun Johnson (Warriors, $477,000)
There's a lot of hype surrounding the Warriors this season, so will their talisman become an irresistible force in NRL Fantasy?
Pros: One of five halves to average better than 50 points a game last year, Johnson is the complete package these days – a fairly consistent Fantasy scorer who is also capable of producing massive scores by stringing together a few of his trademark weaving runs that leave defenders in his dust. For years he's been the primary target of opposition teams, but with fellow Kiwi superstars Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also in this Warriors line-up Johnson may get even more freedom to create attacking opportunities.
Cons: Not much – except for the fact that he's not rated in the top three halves and isn't expected to increase in value too much either. He's also still capable of producing the odd very low score – he made 28 in Round 2 last year and just 11 in Round 13, with missed tackles and errors taking their toll.
James Maloney (Sharks, $393,000)
A move from the Roosters to the Sharks may have been made at just the right time for James Maloney, who finds himself at a club on the rise and crying out for a dominant attacking playmaker.
Pros: Maloney was already a decent Fantasy player – a mid-40s scorer with a knack for finding the tryline and a dangerous short kicking game. But while at the Roosters he split the playmaking roles with NSW Origin regular Mitchell Pearce, at Cronulla he'll be the main man at a club that has a lot of potential but struggled for points last season. He kicks goals too.
Cons: It's hard to predict how a playmaker will go in his first season at a new club, with Maloney needing to form combinations with a new attacking spine after years of running off Pearce and the Roosters' excellent forward pack. Last season's average score of less than 44 doesn't scream "Fantasy keeper" either.
Jackson Hastings (Roosters, $149,000)
The most popular cash cow half of 2016 has all the makings of a quality Fantasy buy.
Pros: He's cheap. He's already played at NRL level, slotting into the Roosters halves for the final part of last season. He's good – good enough for the Roosters to let James Maloney go. He's guaranteed a starting spot. He might even be the senior partner in the Roosters halves come Round 1.
Cons: Hmm... that moustache? https://fantasy.nrl.com/stats/index.html#/player-info/500202
Ashley Taylor (Titans, $134,000)
The former Broncos Holden Cup star was recruited by the Gold Coast as a back-up half, but finds himself thrust into the starting side after a season-ending injury to Kane Elgey.
Pros: Taylor was named the Dally M NYC Player of the Year in 2015 after starring for Brisbane, and will replace the previous year's winner Elgey at the Titans. He's a player with the kind of potential the Titans will be desperate to make the most of so is likely to split the playmaking roles pretty evenly with fellow recruit Tyrone Roberts. Even if he doesn't do enough to post big Fantasy scores, at his low starting price he'll make money anyway if he stays on the field.
Cons: He's unlikely to be a big scorer, and could always drop out of the Titans side if he struggles early on, with the likes of Daniel Mortimer available to switch into the halves if a more experienced option is needed.
Jayden Nikorima (Roosters, $130,000)
With Mitchell Pearce currently stood down by the Roosters, Nikorima is suddenly in the frame to partner Jackson Hastings in the halves.
Pros: He's at rookie price, and could be wearing the Roosters No.7 in Round 1. What's not to like?
Cons: There are no certainties about how long Pearce will be unavailable for Trent Robinson's side, and once he returns Nikorima is likely to slot into the bench hooker role, where he'd likely play short 10 or 15-minute stints. Last year's Jayden's older brother Kodi Nikorima played a similar role at Brisbane and finished with a grand total of 15 points per game.
Te Maire Martin (Panthers, $130,000)
The new Penrith recruit topped the try assist tally in the Holden Cup in 2015 and could put pressure on the ageing Peter Wallace this season.
Pros: He's cheap and has plenty of promise, having been named alongside Taylor in the halves for the 2015 NYC Team of the Year. Martin showed at the Auckland Nines he can be a handful for defenders as well, with fast feet that were shades of fellow Kiwi halves Benji Marshall or Shuan Johnson.
Cons: He won't score any Fantasy points if the Panthers don't pick him. Currently Wallace and Jamie Soward remain on track to be the first-choice halves for Anthony Griffin's side, and picking Martin in the hope that one of the experienced starters will get injured or dropped is a risky move.