Those of us who've been around the NRL Fantasy traps for a while now, with varying levels of success in our private head-to-head leagues over the years, know the drill.
Someone organises the league. You sign up. They collect the buy-ins. The banter begins. The season hits. Then the true Fantasy characters begin to emerge – and we reckon some of these types will be familiar to anyone who's ever played in a head-to-head league.
Mr Hard Luck Story
The poor sod, it happens to him every year. Pre-season, he's full of bravado. He's done his research. He knows the player names, the prices, the rookies to watch. He plans trades weeks in advance. He strategises months in advance what trades he needs to make to get to his perfect final squad.
Then it all starts to go pear-shaped very quickly. The very first head-to-head round he faces a first-year Fantasy novice with no idea what he's doing who promptly jags monster scores from a motley assortment of outside backs to cause a massive boilover. The hard luck stories start early.
Our veteran coach double-trades to bring in a gun player ahead of the Origin period who then rolls an ankle and is out for six weeks. His pre-season banker falls afoul of a new coach and gets shunted to the bench, earning scant minutes and shedding mounds of cash.
Three quarters of the way through the season our luckless Mr Hard Luck Story is sitting precariously in ninth place. "But if you sort the ladder by points scored, I'm in third!" he protests meekly to his uncaring audience.
He burns through the last of his trades in the closing rounds just to ensure he scrapes into the league finals, before losing in the first round to someone who hasn't checked their team in four weeks because they've been overseas for work. Sadly for the rest of us, the hard luck stories continue until the next Fantasy season starts.
Mr Ghost Ship
Why do we keep inviting him back? Why? Every. Single. Year.
He builds a gun team, steals three or four wins at the start of the season then work gets busy or the kids are sick or whatever it is. He soon stops checking his team every week, then he barely checks it once a month. A work trip takes him interstate or overseas for a few weeks and that's the end of him.
You look at his team in Round 18 and the guy that clobbered your cash-cow heavy side back in round one has more red dots than a pre-school full of chicken pox. The league commissioner begs him to at least sub on the scoring players from his bench so his late-season opponents don't get a gigantic differential boost, but by this point he's not even returning text messages.
For some reason he stumps up his $20 league buy-in the next season and we fall for it all over again.
Arguably the most frustrating player to come up against in any league. You know for a fact that he doesn't watch much footy. Maybe his own team, who he only half-supports, if they happen to be playing when he's at home and not busy, but that's about it.
He's frequently so far behind on player movements you wonder if he actually watches the sport at all. ("Why can't I pick Corey Norman at fullback – doesn't he play there for Brisbane?") He seems blissfully unaware of which players are injured at any given time, but never seems to have any of them in his team.
He's the guy who wins your league grand final then doesn't even carry on about it because he's not even surprised, like the rest of you are. His team is so good come grand final week you wonder if he's secretly a Fantasy über-nerd but sadly this will have to remain one of life's unsolved mysteries.
Unlike the above-mentioned Mr How-Does-He-Do-It, Mr Fluke actually watches footy and is up-to-date with the players. He just makes objectively terrible Fantasy decisions that somehow always pay off.
He'll sell a gun keeper after one low score while anyone who's played the game knows the right move is to hold. Said keeper then suffers a string of injury-affected low scores and drops a wad of cash before finally being ruled out for the season. Most of us are tearing our hair out while Mr Fluke just asks why you didn't sell back when he did.
He takes a punt on a battling mid-range centre who's never looked like a Fantasy option, then enjoys six weeks of out-of-character attacking dominance and is sold for a huge profit.
He starts the season with a bench forward on the basis of "he's cheap but he's good" even though said forward is looking at 20 minutes of game time per week at best. Round one, an 80-minute back-rower does an ACL and the rest of us are trading in that same cheap forward. Luckily his luck usually runs out before he wins a league but those early-season upsets always sting.
It's almost not fair on the rest of us. He has a computer science degree, a job in data analytics and nothing better to do with his spare time than apply those freakish talents to concocting a Fantasy team packed with unseen value and incalculable upside.
After just four weeks his squad has already grown nearly $1m worth of salary cap space. Outperformance from his value buys ensure he wins enough games to sit inside the league's top four right through the season.
It gets to the finals and he somehow seems to have more trades than everyone else AND he's upgraded all his fringe players to outright guns.
He doesn't necessarily have the same footy knowledge of some of the other league members and he may miss some of the left-field picks or gut selections that carry some of us to glory, and as a result he frequently bows out in the league quarter- or semi-finals, but we all know he'll be at the business end. Every. Single. Season.
Mr Trash Talker
We've all played with one of these guys. Has a grand over-estimation of his own ability and is overflowing with a confidence he has in no way earned. Insists on trash-talking before every match-up. If he loses it was terrible luck, or a fluke on your part, or a mistake by the scorers, or some sort of conspiracy.
If he wins you never hear the end of it. Next time you meet – that season or the next – he reminds you you're his 'bunny', no matter you beat him the eight times before that and he got you on a week you lost four players to injury.
And heaven forbid he somehow wins a league grand final because your whole group will be subjected to not just one off-season but several years of "the champ is here" brags.
Mr Trade Rager and Mr Trade Saver
We'll lump these two together because they're basically two sides of the same coin.
We all know a Mr Rager. He can't help himself. He simply cannot sit by while a cash cow he's missed accrues value in other teams – so he sells a serviceable scorer just to get him in.
The other thing he cannot abide is wasted salary cap on his bench. For a $500,000+ player, two weeks is a long-term injury to Mr Rager. "Paul Gallen has a calf strain and he'll miss three weeks? SELL." Doesn't matter that it's only round two.
He's basically out of trades by the end of Origin and while he often scrapes into the finals on wins banked early on, he's well and truly run out of puff by then.
On the flipside, Mr Saver agonises over every trade. He'll stubbornly hang onto a fallen gun long after the writing is on the wall and manage a squad of 15 or 16 fit players through Origin hoping it all pays off in the end.
Sadly, his dreamed reality of charging up the ladder and through the finals late-season comes to naught as he struggles to a 10th-place finish with 12 trades still in hand.