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NRL Fantasy watch: Who could bounce back?

All NRL Fantasy coaches get the same $9.4 million salary cap to spend on their squad, so the key to success is making the most of that money.

Players in the NRL Fantasy, presented by Youi, game are priced based on their performances in the previous season, so the key to spotting a bargain is identifying players who are either new (ie. rookies) or who will improve on their 2017 performances. Here are nine players who could be great value if they can regain their 2016 form.

Bryce Cartwright ($325,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 50.3

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 22.2

A breakout star when given a playmaking role at five-eighth in 2016, Cartwright had a year to forget in 2017 and spent much of it on either the bench or the sideline. The potential is still there - his dual-position 2RF/HLF status could come in handy - and his move to the Gold Coast Titans makes him a huge chance of getting significant minutes again in 2018.

Joey Leilua ($486,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 48.8

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 33.2

Leilua's combination with winger Jordan Rapana was a revelation in 2016, with the pair terrorising opposition defences all season. But after a dream campaign – and one in which Canberra finished the regular season in second place – Leilua returned to his erratic form of old last year with seven scores below 20 including two in single digits (in back-to-back weeks no less).

Predicting consistent performances from Leilua still seems a gamble but with the ability to break tackles and pop offloads at will, he is one of few centres capable of scoring more than 40 points a game.

Raiders centre Joey Leilua.
Raiders centre Joey Leilua. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Jesse Bromwich ($534,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 50.7

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 36.5

After three straight seasons averaging 50 points a game or better, Bromwich's Fantasy output nosedived in 2017 with fellow Storm prop Jordan McLean playing his way into a Kangaroos jersey and Melbourne playing most teams off the park with their sparkling backline. McLean has now departed for the Cowboys and the Storm have also lost key duo Cooper Cronk and Tohu Harris, which could lead to Melbourne playing more close, grinding contests that would allow Bromwich to rack up tackles and hit-ups.

James Graham ($671,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 56.6

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 45.8

Graham produced 55 points a game for the opening two months of 2017, but after a concussion in Round 9 he only had one score above 55 for the rest of the season. He averaged 42 points a game from Round 10 onwards. He joins a stacked Dragons pack this year and will play alongside gun prop Paul Vaughan. If he stays fully fit he has the potential to become a keeper once again.

Josh Reynolds ($493,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 44.8

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 33.7

Reynolds has never really been a gun Fantasy half – a position where you'd want 50 points a game from your keepers – but he is a potential cash cow this season following a year when he was stuck in the worst attacking team in the league. He also played reduced minutes three times in his final year the Bulldogs, but will be an 80-minute regular and key attacking player at the Wests Tigers in 2018.

Ryan James ($700,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 60.1

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 47.8

Ryan James was barely a factor in NRL Fantasy until his stunning 2016 season when he racked up a record-breaking 12 tries playing prop. That, plus an excellent all-round workload and a much-improved disciplinary record, led to a huge jump in scoring from 39 points a game up to 60. Last season James game back down to earth with a (still pretty good) 47 points a game with three tries, so if he becomes an attacking weapon once again there is room for improvement.

Solomone Kata ($388,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 38.3

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 26.5

After scoring 15 tries in 21 games in 2016, Kata was restricted to just four in 18 last season, with his line breaks tally dropping from 17 to six. His decline in attack mirrored that of the Warriors – they were ranked seventh for points scored in 2016 but 13th in 2017. There's no guarantee they improve in that regard this year but if they embrace their freewheeling offload-happy style of old there could be more opportunities for Kata to find the try line.

Warriors centre Solomone Kata and hooker Issac Luke.
Warriors centre Solomone Kata and hooker Issac Luke. ©Kylie Cox/NRL Photos

Michael Lichaa ($533,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 47.9

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 36.4

A reduction in minutes and a quiet running game for most of last season meant Lichaa's Fantasy output dropped significantly after he had scored around 50 points a game for the previous two seasons. He needs to play the full 80 minutes each week to be truly Fantasy-relevant, but there's definite upside if he carries on the form he showed in the final couple of rounds of 2017.

Trent Merrin ($654,000)

2016 NRL Fantasy average: 56.0

2017 NRL Fantasy average: 44.7

Merrin had been an established Fantasy gun for years but last season he fell below 50 points a game for the first time in recent memory. His minutes per game dropped from 66 in his first season at the Panthers to 54 last year, and his other stats declined as well – making less than 30 tackles and 130 metres a game in 2017 after notching around 35 tackles and 145 metres each week in 2016. He's a potential cut-price gun this season, but his game time would need to lift to make that happen.

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