NRL Fantasy guide: Hookers
Your whole NRL Fantasy team will be shaped by the decisions you make for your two hooker spots, so it is important to choose wisely. There are a lot of big point-scoring players in this position, but they'll come at a hefty price and you may find you have to sacrifice depth or another position if you want to go big here.
Everything starts and stops with the No.9 – they make lots of tackles, they touch the ball more than anybody on the field, and play some part in practically every attacking raid.
Here are some dummy-halves to keep an eye out for in 2016.
Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm, $548,000)
The undisputed king of NRL Fantasy, Cameron Smith has reigned supreme over all and is beloved by fantasy coaches everywhere. Can the Kangaroos captain retain his crown, or will the hands of time curtail his prolific status?
Pros: It's Cam Smith. He's a Fantasy god. Smith smashes out big scores no matter how the match pans out. He will always be near the top of the tackle counts, does plenty of work in attack including plenty of kicking to relieve pressure from Cooper Cronk, kicks goals, and is ultra consistent. He just doesn't seem to have a bad game. Averaging over 61 points per game last season, Smith is the most bankable captain option in the game.
Cons: Firstly, his price is very steep. Can you afford to have him in your team? Will he play 80 minutes each week, or will coach Craig Bellamy give him rests during the year? He will also be heavily involved in State of Origin and the mid-year Test. There is no doubting his pedigree, but could father time start to slow the Fantasy colossus?
Andrew McCullough (Brisbane Broncos $499,000)
The Broncos No.9 has been a cornerstone of the Broncos' resurgence and a big factor in the club making the grand final last season. The 26-year-old has already racked up 175 first grade games, a testament to his skill and consistency.
Pros: McCullough is consistent and totally reliable for a solid score every week, averaging just a tick under 56 last season. At $50,000 cheaper than Cameron Smith, McCullough is a superb option as your starting hooker. He made 250 more tackles than the next best defender for the Broncos in 2015, which gives you an indication of his work ethic.
Cons: He's not Cameron Smith. There is no getting around this. It all depends on how you structure your team and what your budget calls for. But know that McCullough's price is not likely to rise, so you are picking him for the long haul and hoping his value doesn't drop throughout the season.
Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers, $487,000)
Robbie Farah has long been a darling of NRL Fantasy coaches, with his high work rate and attacking proficiency consistently making him one of the highest scorers in NRL Fantasy, but will the good times continue in 2016?
Pros: Farah is a proven Fantasy gun, consistently racking up big numbers, and averaging a more than respectable 54.5 points per game last year. The heartbeat of the Wests Tigers in attack and defence, Farah has a point to prove in 2016 and his numbers should reflect that. He is the first-choice NSW No.9 and for good reason – he is still one of the best hookers in the game.
Cons: There is no doubting Farah's ability rack up high scores, but he needs to be on the field to do that and Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor has already indicated that Farah's 80-minute games are behind him. With Matt Ballin and Manaia Cherrington tipped to play from the bench in a utility role, Farah's minutes could be a lot less than previous seasons making his high price tag a little risky. He is also likely to play Origin, which could take him out of your team for an extended period.
James Segeyaro (Penrith Panthers, $479,000)
The 2014 Dally M Hooker of the Year just keeps getting better and better and is still a great option in NRL Fantasy. Dynamic out of dummy-half, Segeyaro made a lot of money early last year off the back of some unbelievable solo tries.
Pros: Has the potential to score just as big as the expensive hookers, but is a cheaper option. His form at the start of last season earned him some massive scores thanks to some impressive solo runs that saw him rack up plenty of metres, tackle breaks and tries. Definitely worth thinking about.
Cons: Consistency. Last year he racked up a high score of 94, but a lowest score of 28 which is not ideal for your starting hooker. In this position consistency is king and with a break even of 54, Segeyaro could lose you a little bit of money if he makes a slow start to the season.
Issac Luke (Warriors, $437,000)
The New Zealand international has returned to home and joined the Warriors after winning a premiership with South Sydney. At his best, there are few who can go with the dynamic ball runner; he will terrorise the ruck defence if he senses even half a chance. The big question is how will his game adapt to the Warriors' style of play?
Pros: He's more than $110,000 cheaper than Cameron Smith but a very dependable Fantasy scorer who could get a lot of attacking stats at the Warriors this season. He's a Kiwi international who can play 80 minutes and if the Warriors become a premiership heavyweight, his scores and price should rise on the back of some big scores from the Warriors.
Cons: Luke is at a new club and it could take him a little time to hit the ground running. The possible presence of Thomas Leuluai on the bench could also mean he shares his minutes, which is not what you want from your starting hooker.
Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders, $412,000)
Hodgson was one of Canberra's big recruits last season and the Englishman didn't disappoint, starting all 24 games for the green machine.
Pros: He didn't attract a lot of mainstream media attention, but Hodgson had a bumper first campaign in Canberra, making the most try assists (12) and second-most tackles (805) at the club. He's hard working and consistent (he only made five errors last season), playing in a team that should improve this season which will only help his scores.
Cons: Like a lot of hookers in this list, the presence of a rival dummy-half on the bench (Adam Clydsdale in his case) means his minutes might not be as high as you would like. He did also miss 55 tackles last year, which is an inherent risk when defending in the middle of the field.
Michael Ennis (Cronulla Sharks, $406,000)
The polarising rake had arguably his best season in the NRL last year and was one of the form players of the competition. Ennis had the Sharks forwards humming all year and seemed to have added more elements to his game, which helped his scores in fantasy.
Pros: Michael Ennis is a competitor and an 80-minute player. What you see is what you get, and he's decently priced if you are looking for a mid-priced No.9. He's playing behind one of the best forward packs in the NRL and with a strong roster, the Sharks and Ennis are well placed to have a bumper year.
Cons: Ennis isn't as flashy as some of the other rakes on the market and traditionally won't score a lot of points in attacking stats or kick metres. He is also getting older, which means he may be rested for times during the year.
Nathan Friend (Gold Coast Titans, $341,000)
Nathan Friend produced the highlight of the season when he did a complete summersault to catch a bomb and set up the try of the year. But are his high-scoring fantasy days behind him?
Pros: Nathan Friend is one of the hardest working players in the game and he isn't afraid to mix it with the big guys in the middle of the field. He has been elevated to captain on his return to the Titans, which should inspire him to greater heights and lead from the front with an inexperienced roster.
Cons: Friend was once a Fantasy gun, due to his high workrate and tendency to tackle everything that moved. But with Daniel Mortimer set to reprise his utility role of the bench at the Gold Coast Friend is likely to play only 50 minutes a game, reducing his chance to rack up big scores.
Cameron McInnes (South Sydney Rabbitohs $296,000)
Cameron McInnes was slated to be South Sydney's long term No.9 replacement of Issac Luke, but now finds himself in a two-way battle with speedy Damien Cook. There is no doubting his talent, but how the Rabbitohs line up in Round 1 is anyone's guess.
Pros: McInnes has a huge future and looks to have the lead in the race for the South Sydney No.9 jersey. At $296,000 he could see some nice price rises if he is the starting hooker and spends a majority of time on the field.
Cons: Damien Cook. Cook is pushing McInnes all the way for the starting role and is likely to play an impact role off the bench. The option for coach Michael Maguire means fantasy coaches will need to tread carefully as two doesn't go into one.
Matt Parcell (Manly Sea Eagles, $165,000)
Parcell comes to Manly with a lot of hype after a successful stint with the Ipswich Jets and has impressed already in the NRL Auckland Nines. Is he ready to be one of the cash cows of the year?
Pros: Has the potential to be the buy of the year. At $165,000 Parcell has a lot of upside and potentially could make you a lot of money if he gets the starting hooker role at the Sea Eagles. Showed in the Nines that he has a big engine and will make a lot of tackles, plus plenty of attacking stats to boot.
Cons: Apisai Koroisau. Originally the big signing for Manly's No.9 role, Koroisau has won a grand final with South Sydney and has the potential to be the first-choice hooker. That's bad news for Parcell in Fantasy world – the two could end up sharing the role, meaning they'll half any potential points on offer.