The NRL Fantasy season is just about over for another year and while the Fantasy Finals Match Day competition kicks off in a week's time, today we'll reflect on the players who produced the best and worst of the Fantasy campaign so far.
Cash Cow of the Season: Cody Walker
Kudos to Manly hooker Matt Parcell, Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary, Roosters pivot Jackson Hastings, Bulldogs centre Kerrod Holland, Rabbitohs prop Nathan Brown and Titans half Ash Taylor, but the biggest moneymaker in 2016 has been Walker, whose journey from fill-in half to star fullback to general Rabbitohs Mr Fix-It has earned him a lot of Fantasy points and about $300,000 in price rises.
Most Popular Player: Ben Barba
The former Dally M winner's return to the fullback role this season after being used off the bench for large chunks of last season made him a popular Fantasy buy at the start of the season at just $178,000, and a string of increasingly impressive scores highlighted by a couple of 70s in Round 18 and 20 took his price tag past $350,000. Along the way more than 61,000 Fantasy teams selected Barba in their squad – making him easily the most-owned player in the game above Rabbitohs star Sam Burgess, Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson and Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith.
The Don't Believe the Hype award: Anthony Milford
Last season, Anthony Milford was a super-talented by erratic Fantasy scorer, who was great in the NRL grand final but hardly a reliable Fantasy player before that. He started 2016 with a quiet 33 in Round 1 – and then exploded. Milford's next three scores were 53, 88 and 80; he averaged 63.5 points a game a month into the season and by Round 10 he had a staggering four scores above 80. After that… not so much. In his next 10 matches Milford managed just two scores above 40 and none above 50. His performances picked up again since then, but with a $195,000 price drop in the middle part of the season those who stuck with the hot-and-cold Milford may have missed a trick while the likes of Nathan Cleary rose to prominence.
The Believe the Hype award: Ryan James
Like Milford, James had been an inconsistent Fantasy scorer in the past and started the season with a score of 33, and like Milford he also had an average score in the 50s after Round 10. Unlike Milford, James was only getting started. From Round 11 James went on a sensational scoring run – 68, a season-high 119, 59, 84, 79. All that from a forward who doesn't play the full 80 minutes. With an average score of close to 60 he has undoubtedly been one of the best Fantasy players of 2016.
Performance of the Season: Ryan James
Two tries, two line breaks, 48 tackles, a dozen tackle breaks and 193 run metres – James did the work of three men in the Titans' golden point win over the Rabbitohs in Round 13 and was rewarded with a staggering 119 Fantasy points. The performance was so good barely anyone noticed that Sam Burgess scored 98 in the same game.
Worst Performance of the Season: Euan Aitken
Dragons centre Euan Aitken was one of the most consistent Fantasy performers in the outside backs in 2016. Unfortunately, that all fell apart against the Titans in Round 7, when he conceded a penalty, missed a couple of tackles, made a couple of runs, then left the field after 17 minutes with a hamstring injury. That all added up to a Fantasy score of -5. Ouch. Special mention here goes to former Fantasy legend Shaun Fensom who not only fell out of favour at Canberra by the end of the season but also copped a concussion a minute into his team's Round 2 clash with the Roosters and finished with -1. It was even crueller for those few unfortunate Fantasy teams who had Fensom as their captain and had his score "doubled" to -2.
The Hanging in There award: Clint Gutherson
Clint Gutherson started the season as a new Parramatta signing priced at $134,000 in Fantasy, and after 20 rounds was the third most-owned player in the game. Initially only a Fantasy cash cow, Gutherson burst into the spotlight with a stunning 85-point game against the Bulldogs in Round 9, became a valuable utility man across the bye rounds with Parramatta the only team in action in all three pre-Origin weeks, and then after Origin suddenly because a consistent Fantasy scorer after being switched to five-eighth for the injury-hit Eels. He is still in my Fantasy squad going into Round 26, along with about 39,000 others.
The At Least He'll Be Cheap Next Year award: Jarryd Hayne
When your Fantasy campaign is over it's never too early to look ahead to 2017. Who will be the new rookies on the scene? Which new recruits are likely to fire? The other factor to keep in mind is, which current stars will be undervalued? Player prices at the start of a new season are based on average scores from the previous season, with all players who played in less than 10 games getting a discount (the fewer games played, the bigger the discount). Roger Tuivasa-Sheck should be pretty good value in 2017 with an average of 33 from seven games, Billy Slater could be a steal if and when he returns after scoring just 20 from his sole game in 2016, but in Jarryd Hayne we'll have a player who will have played just five regular season games this season, and whose current average is less than 29. Considering Hayne is a former Fantasy superstar who scored a massive 62 points a game in 2014 he could be the must-have Fantasy player of 2017.
Player of the Season: Cameron Smith
Smith has scored less than 50 just once this season – when he managed a solid 47 in Round 3 – and has managed a stunning nine scores above 70. He has been the top-scorer in Fantasy in both the last two weeks with season-high scores of 86 and 85 and cemented his position as the best player in NRL Fantasy. When choosing your Fantasy captain for Round 1, 2017, the simple answer is to pick and stick with the Storm skipper.
1. Cameron Munster
2. James Tedesco
3. Jarrod Croker
4. Joseph Leilua
5. Cody Walker
6. Nathan Cleary
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Cameron Smith (c)
10. Ryan James
11. Bodene Thompson
12. Simon Mannering
13. Jack de Belin
14. Jake Friend
15. James Graham
16. Trent Merrin
17. Paul Gallen