They're the bargain players that can give your NRL Fantasy team huge spending power later in the season. Here are a dozen of the most promising Fantasy cash cows for 2017.
Jarryd Hayne (Titans WFB, $200,000)
The Gold Coast superstar is the most-picked player in Fantasy right now and with good reason. He costs just $62,000 more than the minimum price and was once the most expensive player in the whole game – an incredible achievement for a fullback – during his Dally M Medal-winning 2014 season. Get him in your side.
Jamal Idris (Tigers CTR, $148,000)
The next most popular player in the game is Idris, a former State of Origin and international wrecking ball who starts at an outrageously low price this season. Idris looks set to grab a starting spot in the centres for the Tigers, has plenty of upside with his ability to break tackles and not much downside considering he's so close to the base price.
Kane Elgey (Titans HLF, $197,000)
The only first-choice half in the NRL who costs less than $200,000 in Fantasy, Elgey comes cheap after a year out of the game with a knee injury. He's no guarantee to be a big scorer – halves partner Ash Taylor will probably take most of the kicking in general play, for example – but with a break even of 21 he only needs to score in the 30s to earn some valuable price rises.
Kalyn Ponga (Cowboys WFB, $148,000)
A freakish natural talent with footwork not seen in an NRL rookie since Shaun Johnson's arrival on the scene, Ponga looks set to be a star in the years to come but in the meantime will battle to get a place in a premiership-winning Cowboys backline. Antonion Winterstein's injury has opened up a spot on the wing, but even if Ponga does get it he could be back out of the side in a couple of weeks. That makes him a risky buy, even if his ability to skip past defenders could make him a big Fantasy scorer once he gets his chance (particularly if he can spend some time at fullback).
Jai Field (Dragons HLF, $138,000)
Like Ponga, Field took the Auckland Nines by storm with some sensational solo tries but isn't quite a first-choice pick for his club at NRL level yet. The halfback is still raw but boasts pure speed that few in the game can match. He's set to play off the bench for the Dragons in the early rounds, with the experienced Josh McCrone starting at halfback. If Field can grab the starting spot he'd be a steal but if he only gets 20 minutes or so of game time each week it's hard to justify having him in your squad.
Jayden Brailey (Sharks HOK, $138,000)
A former Holden Cup player of the year with the Sharks, Brailey is a player with a big future and has edged ahead of Daniel Mortimer and Manaia Cherrington in the pecking order for the Cronulla hooker spot vacated by the retired Michael Ennis. A starting hooker at the lowest price looks like an absolute bargain… but if he loses his spot during the season – or if the Sharks sign a genuine star in James Segeyaro – Brailey could be a difficult player to offload in that tricky second hooker position.
Joe Stimson (Storm 2RF, $138,000)
The departure of Kevin Proctor and a two-month injury to Tohu Harris has led to a reshuffle of the Melbourne Storm forward pack, and Stimson could be one player to benefit with a one or two new spots up for grabs on the bench. Bench back-rowers don't generally play huge minutes but they can still be busy defensively – and 20 or 25 tackles a game would earn a player like Stimson some handy price rises.
Dylan Phythian (Knights WFB, $143,000)
On the one hand, a first-choice fullback at or near the basement price appears to be a no-brainer when it comes to Fantasy cash cows. Most fullbacks make a good number of run metres and a handful of attacking stats (tackle breaks, try assists, etc) which gives them around 30 points a week at least – and that's all you want from a cash cow. On the other hand, Jaelen Feeney was in exactly the same position as the Knights' rookie fullback last season and was a Fantasy disaster, posting low scores and making no cash. The Feeney incident will scare off a few veteran Fantasy coaches, but Phythian is still probably worth the gamble.
Brian Kelly (Sea Eagles CTR, $138,000)
The former Titan has looked sharp and solid for his new club Manly in the pre-season and could grab a spot in the outside backs after the retirements of Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai. If he gets picked – particularly on the wing which would give him handy dual-position status in Fantasy – he's a buy.
Curtis Scott (Storm CTR, $143,000)
Like Kelly, Scott could be a first-choice selection for his club in Round 1, battling Cheyse Blair for one of the centre positions at Melbourne. He's a promising player and again looks a straightforward Fantasy selection if he can get (and keep) that spot.
Akuila Uate (Sea Eagles WFB, $177,000)
The former Kangaroos winger had a poor final season at the Knights – scoring just a single try and spending much of the season in reserve grade – but gets a new lease on life at the Sea Eagles where he should at least get more try-scoring chances this season. Can he get back to somewhere near his best, or is his best simply behind him? He's not as cheap as others in this list but his experience and the fact Manly traded a quality first-grader in Jamie Buhrer for him means Uate should at least hold down a spot in the top grade this year.
Nick Cotric (Raiders CTR, $138,000)
A talented young wide man who can bust tackles, Cotric would be playing on the end of the most lethal attacking backline in the competition if he can get a start for the Raiders. Edrick Lee's exit to the Sharks last week opens up a spot on the wing, and the teenage Cotric could be the man to replace him.