Scout Report: Pre-season Fantasy Q&A

NRL Fantasy is back for 2017! Welcome one all to one of the most exciting times of the footy season – the final days before Round 1 begins. All teams are level on zero points, anyone can win it, and all the NRL Fantasy prizes (and bragging rights) are up for grabs for another year.

I'll be giving my Fantasy tips every week of the season on NRL.com – with all the big news from the team lists plus Q&A with fans who have asked questions on my Facebook or Twitter pages.  

Before we kick off the first Q&A of the year, a quick word on the all-important team lists. If you're new to Fantasy, the team lists page on NRL.com will become the most important part of your Fantasy planning this year – seeing who's in, who's out, who's starting and in what position is crucial to becoming a successful Fantasy coach. The team lists process has been changed a little this year, in a way that I think actually gives a bit more certainty to Fantasy coaches. Here's how it will work:

- On Tuesday afternoons, all NRL teams will name a 17-man squad, PLUS four reserve players. No players from outside these 21 names can take part in the game for that round unless the club gets special dispensation from the NRL.

- 24 hours before each game begins, clubs must reduce their match squad to 19 players.

- One hour before kick-off, clubs must announce their 17-man team (as they did last season).

While this may appear to give less certainty to the team lists named on Tuesday, I think the opposite is the case. Last season, clubs could make as many late changes as they liked to the team list they named on Tuesday. This year clubs can't spring a surprise rookie into their team on game day (they have to be included in their Tuesday team list), so Fantasy coaches are unlikely to "miss" a new cash cow. Clubs are also less likely to name star players who they know won't be playing – they can still do it, but it would mean they'd be effectively "wasting" a spot in their 21-man squad and will have one less reserve to pick from if late injuries occur before kick-off.

Now, onto the fans' big questions in the lead-up to Round 1

Hey LS. So good to have Fantasy starting soon. As usual there are a few rookies being bandied around as prospects this year. Your thoughts on who is looking likely following the trials & WCC?
From Rewi Edwin Pittman 

Former NYC star Jayden Brailey looks to have the edge in the race for the starting hooker spot at Cronulla after impressing his coach in the World Club Challenge, although the club is still holding out hope of signing James Segeyaro. Curtis Scott is a chance of edging Cheyse Blair out of a centre spot at Melbourne. Siosifa Talakai played a handful of games last season and looks set to grab a centre spot at Souths, while Bryan Kelly is a pretty good chance of starting in the outside backs at Manly. Dylan Phythian will start at fullback for the Knights – although Jaelen Feeney's brief spell last season shows there's no guarantee he'll score a lot of Fantasy points in that position. Moses Suli is seen as a great prospect at the Tigers and could start on the wing in Round 1. Kalyn Ponga likewise could start on the wing for the Cowboys, although Antonio Winterstein should be back from injury in a week or two. Joe Stimson could nab a bench spot for Melbourne, which would be enough to earn him some Fantasy price boosts as a back-rower.

Popular Fantasy buys Jai Field, Robert Jennings and Cameron King look less likely of getting a run at the start of the season, so I'd be strongly considering cutting them from your squad if you have them and they miss the Round 1 team lists.

Is stacking your forwards and skimping on backs a good thing? And also what's your thoughts on running two cash cow hookers (Brailey and Pritchard/King) if they both get the nod?
From Nick Drysdale

In answer to your first question, yes I'd generally spend more on your forwards than backs at the start of the year. For one thing, they score more points (the best hookers, props and second-rowers score 50 points or more, the best centres and winger/fullbacks score 40 or more). For another, they're generally more consistent because they get regular high tackle counts, while backs need attacking plays (tackle breaks, try assists, tries) to post big Fantasy scores. That means backs will see their prices fluctuate more throughout the year – so there's every chance you can pick them up for cheaper at some point in the season. 

On the two cash cow hookers idea – I'd avoid doing that. Hooker is one of the highest-scoring positions in Fantasy, so you're going to want two big-money players in those two positions by the end of the season. Even if you can get a couple of effective cash cows at the start of the year, and they jump from $138,000 to, say, $350,000, you'll still need another few hundred grand up your sleeve in order to upgrade them to someone like Cameron Smith ($631,000). And you're going to want to upgrade both hookers, not just one. Plus having two cash cows hookers will hurt your team's scoring potential at the start of the season. Get a gun in there.

Buy Smith now, or hope he comes down a bit in value early in the season?
From Karl Ngawhika 

Cameron Smith is the best player in NRL Fantasy, and is super consistent as well. There's a reason he costs a whopping $631,000. You'll want him in your team at some stage of the season, so picking him now saves you a trade and ensures you have probably the best available captain (who earns double points for your team).

The argument against getting Smith now is that you could spend that money better on players who will rise in value – like Cameron McInnes, Robbie Farah or Josh Hodgson. If you do go this way, you'll need to get another top-line player into your squad as captain – probably Andrew Fifita or Ryan James – and you'll then need to free up enough cash during the year to upgrade your back-up hooker to Smith later on. It's tricky, but it can be done. I'm probably going with Smith for Round 1, but there are pros and cons to both strategies. 

 


Curtis Sironen, classic flop or can you see him bounce back?
From Ty Cant

Curtis Sironen has never really been a Fantasy-relevant player – but this could be the year that changes. He's moved to Manly where he's impressed coach Trent Barrett with some strong performances in the pre-season, and is set to play big minutes as a starting second-rower. He's not going to become a Fantasy gun but with a price tag of $244,000 and a break even of 26 he'd only need to make regular scores in the mid-30s to be good value for money.

Best smokie to become a gun this year?
From Darren Lawrence 

I'd say Cameron McInnes. He shared his game-time with Damien Cook at the Rabbitohs last season but can play the full 80 minutes and is likely to do that at the Dragons this year, with the Red V usually picking four big men on the bench. McInnes isn't the flashiest player going around but he makes a lot of tackles, and that's Fantasy gold. The risk is that the Dragons could use Siliva Havili as a bench hooker, or even pick Jai Field as an impact player in the 17 and switch Josh McCrone from half to hooker late in games. 

Kalyn Ponga – he's obviously signed elsewhere next season, will this decision affect his playing time?
From Alvante Harris 

Yes and no. Ponga's a star of the future but he was already just a back-up option for the Cowboys, who have a star-studded backline that earned them a premiership a couple of seasons ago. The fact that they haven't let Ponga leave immediately to join the Knights this season shows that they do value him as a back-up option, and as premiership contenders the Cowboys are going to pick their strongest side regardless of what their players are doing next season. 

I think he'll remain a back-up option at the start of the year, but if he plays the house down – and, more importantly, if Lachlan Coote or one of North Queensland's wingers struggle – he could force his way into the starting 13.

How many plus $500k players would you start with?
From Mark Gillespie 

I'd say at least two – your captain and vice captain – and probably one or two extras. Your focus at the start of the season should be on getting good value players, not just guns. 

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