Fantasy Watch: Early 2018 trade targets
It's never too early to start planning for next season, and NRL.com's Lone Scout has spotted a few potential bargains for the 2018 NRL Fantasy campaign.
"Injury is opportunity" is a favourite phrase of strength and conditioning coaches and the same goes for Fantasy – although you could extend it to "injury and form slumps" when you're hunting for value buys for the upcoming season.
The key here is that players are priced based on their scores from the previous season – meaning the biggest clue about which players will be undervalued in 2018 is how they performed (or didn't perform) in 2017.
So keep an eye on players who are likely to enjoy more game time or greater opportunities next season. Players like…
James Tedesco (Roosters)
Tedesco is already the best winger/fullback in Fantasy and the most prolific tackle breaker in the game, but he could get even more attacking chances next season when he moves from the Tigers to the Roosters. Tedesco knows his way to the try-line but only crossed five times at club level in 2017, with a spate of disallowed tries, and should benefit from switching from the league's 14th-ranked club to the team that finished second on the ladder this season. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was dominant in his one full season at fullback for the Roosters and Tedesco could potentially exceed the heights set by RTS that year. His best performance of 2017 came in a 91-point destruction of the Rabbitohs in Round 1 and there could be more of that to come when he lines up for South Sydney's arch rivals.
Kalyn Ponga (Knights)
The impressive North Queensland youngster is Newcastle's marquee recruit and is already a Fantasy star in the making, having averaged 49 points from six games for the Cowboys this season before an injury-affected -4 in Round 24. Having been purely used as a back-up at the Cowboys Ponga will be the first-choice fullback at Newcastle and looms as a key playmaker for his new team. Knights fans and Fantasy coaches will be hopeful Ponga can provide the same kind of spark that the similarly elusive Ben Barba did in his breakout season at the Bulldogs in 2012. While generally you'd prefer to pick backline players from the stronger clubs, players like James Tedesco have shown that a tackle-buster can score well from fullback at any team.
Connor Watson (Knights)
Another talented young Knights recruit, Connor Watson played just 42 minutes per game as a utility at the Roosters in 2017 but is expected to be the first-choice five-eighth at Newcastle, paired in the halves with fellow youngster Brock Lamb. Watson has already shown his star qualities in cameos for the Roosters as well as being the player of the tournament at the 2017 Auckland Nines, and although Lamb will remain the dominant kicker in general player Watson could become a key attacking weapon at the club. He may not be a genuine Fantasy gun but he's every chance of being a mid-range moneymaker, and should certainly improve on his 27-point average in 2017.
James Graham (Dragons)
Graham has been a Fantasy gun for years but was underwhelming by his usual standards in 2017, dogged by injury and restricted to 45.8 points per game. That included injury-affected stints against the Raiders (9 points in 14 minutes in Round 9) and Sharks (18 points in 20 minutes in Round 12), games that saw his average game time drop from 61 minutes in 2016 to 52 in 2017. Last year Graham scored an excellent 57.2 points a game and while he is joining a Dragons forward pack that is already stacked with quality, the Red V have shown that they can have several strong Fantasy scorers at the same time with Paul Vaughan (54.6 points a game), Cameron McInnes (55.4) and Jack de Belin (58.8) all performing well last year.
Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs)
One of the biggest mysteries of the 2018 season will be the form and fitness of Inglis, once regarded by many as the best player in rugby league. The Rabbitohs fullback missed almost the entire season with a torn ACL, and he could struggle to be the player he once was when his knee recovers. On the plus side, Billy Slater's stunning comeback after effectively spending two years out of the game (albeit with shoulder, not knee, injuries) has shown you shouldn't write off a champion. Inglis is expected to receive a significant price discount next season that could see him valued as a 30-point player – well below the mid-40s scores he has become known for in Fantasy for the past few years.
Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
Bromwich was a frustrating Fantasy buys for those who had him in 2017, losing his "keeper" status with a mediocre run of scores despite the Storm's strong form all year. Browmich's game time was reduced from 58 minutes to 50 minutes but his Fantasy scoring declined even more, slumping from 50.9 points a game in 2016 to just 36.5 this year. If anything Melbourne's dominance of matches may have worked against Bromwich with the prop asked to do less tackling than previous years, but that could change with big names Jordan McLean and Tohu Harris departing the club – leaving Bromwich with plenty to do as the Storm's leader of the pack.
Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers)
Reynolds is not a noted Fantasy scorer who can be relied on for 50 points a game, but he was a solid contributor in 2016 with an average of 45.3. That average plummeted to just 33.6 this season, with the Bulldogs' attack ranked the worst in the league. Reynolds also spent more time off the field in 2017, with three scores hurt by limited game time due to a bench role or injury (12 points in 38 minutes against the Raiders in Round 9; 20 points in 21 minutes against Souths in Round 23; and 11 in 17 minutes against the Dragons in Round 26). If he can get his average back up to the mid-40s in his new role at the Tigers he should earn around $100,000 in price rises.
David Klemmer (Bulldogs)
The Canterbury lock was in fine Fantasy form in late in the 2017 season, averaging 60 points a game from Round 21 to Round 26 having averaged just 37 before that. Klemmer's Bulldogs had an underwhelming campaign last year but he starred off the bench for NSW with 170 metres in all three Origin games and he could potentially take on a larger role at club level next season after the departure of skipper James Graham (although Aaron Woods offsets that to some extent). Klemmer will be priced based on his 44-point 2017 average so if he can hit regular 50s he'd be excellent value.
Bryce Cartwright (Panthers)
Cartwright was a revelation for Penrith in 2016, converting from the back row to the halves and scoring 51 points per game. That dropped down to 22.2 points per game in 2017 with his role reduced to a rotation forward, playing 50 minutes a game rather than the full 80. Whether he can get back to his old scoring or not will depend largely on his role at the club next season.
Bodene Thompson (unattached)
Thompson had a poor Fantasy campaign by his usual lofty standards for the Warriors, scoring 44 points per game for the season after averaging 54.5 in 2016. The encouraging sign is he finished the year strongly – he actually averaged 57 in his final five games of the year, after scoring about 39 points a game before that. More of that kind of form would make him a cut-price keeper in 2018.
Damien Cook (Rabbitohs)
Cook found himself in less than three per cent of Fantasy teams by the end of the season – understandable considering he was sharing the Souths hooking role with the 2016 NSW Blues No.9 – but he was among the highest-scoring dummy-halves in the final part of the season. After splitting his time between the starting role and the bench all year Cook was given big minutes in the final five rounds (70 minutes in Round 22, then 69, 67, 65 and 80) and his scores jumped significantly – he averaged 56.4 in the last five rounds after averaging just 28 points a game before that. With a new coach it's anyone's guess how many minutes Cook will get in 2018 but if he resumes a similar role he should be good value considering his starting price will be based on a 34-point season average.
Tohu Harris (Warriors)
Like Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris was another Storm forward who saw his Fantasy scores drop this year despite (or perhaps because of) Melbourne's on-field dominance in 2017. Harris scored 52 points a game in 2016 but only averaged 42 this year, due in part to injury-affected games against the Roosters (25 points in 37 minutes in Round 16) and Knights (12 in 23 minutes in Round 24). At the Warriors next season he'll be expected to play a key role as an 80-minute forward, where he's likely to have more to do in both attack as one of the team's strike weapons and in defence for a team that doesn't dominate games like Melbourne does.
Michael Lichaa (Bulldogs)
One of the curious stories of 2017 was the limited effectiveness of Michael Lichaa, whose running game evaporated for much of the season – despite being arguably his main strength during his time as a prodigy in the Sharks' under-20s side. It led to less game time, with Lichaa's average minutes per game dropping from 76 in 2016 to 61 this year, and his Fantasy scores dipped even further from 48 per game to 36 per game. The good news is he embraced his old running game in the last few weeks of the season and finished the year with scores of 67 and 56, and with a new deal now likely at the Bulldogs if he returns to his usual 80-minute role (and runs the ball) he could easily become a keeper at hooker.