Scout Report: Round 20 Fantasy Q&A
The bye rounds have come and gone and now it's full speed ahead for the run home. The major hurdle facing a lot of Fantasy teams? Injuries to big-name players Shaun Johnson and Trent Merrin. Those two have dominated this week's big NRL Fantasy questions, so here's my breakdown of the pros and cons of the potential replacements for both players.
Who should I replace Shaun Johnson with?
The "advantage" of Johnson being injured is that, unlike Merrin, he is the most expensive player in his position – meaning you can replace him with any half you like. Here are the contenders.
Nathan Cleary ($536,000)
Pros: He's coming off the greatest Fantasy score of all time – a massive 126 against Johnson's Warriors last Friday – bringing his average score over the past month to a ridiculous 78. He's in form, in other words. Plus the Panthers are playing must-win footy as they chase a finals spot.
Cons: Cleary and the Panthers have not be super-consistent this season – he has five scores under 40 which makes him a bit of a risk for somebody who costs more than $500,000.
 Pearce Mitchell - Roosters
Mitchell Pearce ($532,000)
Pros: He's got the second-best average score among halves behind Johnson (57) with just one score below 40 this year. He's also scored more than 60 in half his games.
Cons: A break-even of 70 means he's set to drop in price in the next few weeks unless he posts a bumper score. In saying that, he has already scored 88 earlier this year against this week's opponents Newcastle…
Cameron Munster ($493,000)
Pros: The new Maroons star has emerged as a genuine Fantasy keeper in the halves this season, averaging 61 in his past five games and almost 68 in his last three. He also plays for the best team in the comp so attacking chances should keep coming his way, and has dual position status meaning he can be switched to your WFBs if necessary.
Cons: Unlike Cleary and Pearce, Munster's season average is a tick below 50, although that includes a couple of low scores (22 and 36) at fullback. He doesn't get the base stats in kick metres to match Cleary and Pearce meaning he needs to keep making an impact as a ball-runner to score well – which usually means inconsistency for a Fantasy half.
Daly Cherry-Evans ($462,000)
Pros: Currently in the form of his life, and coming off his two best scores of the season (68 and 78). Leads the league in try assists, and has also taken on the goal-kicking at Manly in the short term at least.
Cons: For much of the season Cherry-Evans' kick metres have been down with Blake Green sharing the load more than previous Manly five-eighths, meaning DCE has needed regular try assists and tackle breaks to score above 50. Can he keep his sensational form up for another couple of months?
Michael Morgan ($439,000)
Pros: Has been brilliant at halfback for the Cowboys since Johanthan Thurston's season-ending injury, scoring 53 and 90…
Cons: …and then he scored 24 last week, in a winning team against the Rabbitohs. That pretty much ended most Fantasy coaches' interest in him as a keeper half for the run home.
Ben Hunt ($436,000)
Pros: It's been a strange season for Hunt in his last year at the Broncos before joining the Dragons but after spending some time on the bench and in reserve grade he's back in the No.7 jersey and scoring pretty well, with three 50s in his past four games. He's been a keeper in the past and is good value these days – $100,000 cheaper than Johnson, Cleary and Pearce.
Cons: Hunt's only really big score of the season was a 73 way back in Round 2, and he's only scored more than 50 five times in 11 matches this season.
My top three half options: Pearce, Cleary, Cherry-Evans.
Who should I replace Trent Merrin with?
Trent Merrin's $415,000 price tag makes this trade much trickier, and you'll probably need some spare cash in the bank to afford a decent replacement here. If you need to trade both Johnson and Merrin, it could be worth going a cut-price option at half in order to fund a genuine keeper in the back row.
Jason Taumalolo ($552,000)
Pros: The second-best scorer in Fantasy this year behind Cameron Smith, Taumalolo has been a metre-eating monster this season and is even more crucial to the Cowboys' chances with Johnathan Thurston joining Matt Scott on the sidelines.
Cons: He isn't cheap, and you'll need a spare $137,000 to afford this trade.
 Gallen Paul - Sharks
Paul Gallen ($528,000)
Pros: Cheaper than Taumalolo but a genuine Fantasy star, averaging 59 for the season. Missing Origin this season has helped Gallen's scoring consistency at club level and he's coming off a season-high 84.
Cons: Again, there's that price tag.
Jack de Belin ($513,000)
Pros: A little cheaper than Gallen but almost as good a scorer, hitting 58 points a game primarily through tackles at lock – making him one of the more consistent options available.
Cons: He was bumped to the Dragons' bench before kick-off last week and only played big minutes due to an injury to Russell Packer, and he could potentially find himself on the bench again in the run home.
Jake Trbojevic ($501,000)
Pros: He's in better form than the similarly-priced Sam Burgess but is in about 26,000 fewer Fantasy teams, making him a nice point of difference for the run home. Averages around 55 this season.
Cons: Only scored 41 in his last start – his fifth score below 45 in 16 games this season.
Martin Taupau ($473,000)
Pros: Has finally found some consistency this season and he's the only second-rower averaging more than 50 points a game available for under $500,000, apart from the suspended Josh Papalii.
Cons: His last month of scores have been solid rather than convincing – 50, 32, 47 and 51 – and it's yet to be seen whether he can recapture the form that saw him average 68 between Round 8 and Round 13.
Nathan Brown ($447,000)
Pros: He's played the full 80 minutes in four of his past five games, averaging 57 in that time, and is coming off his season-best score of 71. And his price tag is very affordable thanks to a mid-season injury.
Cons: His season average is below 50, but that's more to do with his slowish start to the campaign and an injury-affected 6 in Round 11. Hard to find flaws in him at his current price.
Josh McGuire ($394,000)
Pros: He's the first player on this list to actually cost less than Merrin, and he was averaging 51 up until a couple of weeks ago when he hit his two lowest scores of the year (31 in 47 minutes and an injury-affected 5). Usually plays more than 60 minutes at lock for the Broncos and should be re-energised after Queensland's Origin win.
Cons: With scores just around the 50-point mark McGuire is only really a borderline keeper, with some Fantasy teams already looking to upgrade him to an elite gun.
Shaun Lane ($258,000)
Pros: If you're keen to free up a lot of cash Lane is a cut-price option, coming off two 80-minute performances in Manly's back row where he scored 57 and 54. And did I mention that price tag?
Cons: Job security is a massive issue here, with Lewis Brown starting in Lane's position two weeks ago before being sidelined with a knee injury. Brown could make his return this week or next and could put Lane's minutes in jeopardy. Even if Lane keeps his spot, his previous two scores have been boosted by a try and a try assist so it'd be a bold move to lock him in as a keeper at this stage of the season.
My top three second-row options: Taumalolo, Gallen, Brown.