The most crucial players in your NRL Fantasy starting squad aren't the star players you bring in at the start of the season.
They are the cut-price bargains, who not only free up spending money to spend on the rest of your squad but also have the potential to rapidly rise in value in the opening weeks of the campaign.
With player prices changing from the end round one based on each player's Fantasy scores, grabbing the right cash cows could give you a $10 million team in no time.
Here's my take on the top 10 most popular players under $400,000.
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Titans 2RF/HLF, $325,000, in 43% of teams
A Penrith bench player in 2017, Cartwright's move to the Gold Coast will make him a starting lock and almost certainly a value buy in NRL Fantasy.
Pros: Cartwright ticks almost all the boxes for a Fantasy cash cow. Cheap price? Check. (His break even is just 22.) Fantasy pedigree? Check. (He scored 50 points a game in 2016.) Opportunity to improve this year? Check. (His role should increase significantly as a go-to man for the Titans.)
Cons: Cartwright was nowhere near his best last season and is now at a team expected to struggle. More minutes alone won't necessarily make him a high scorer if his performances don't improve.
Sea Eagles HLF, $228,000, in 31% of teams
The only cheapie who is locked into a starting spot in the halves in round one, Manly recruit Croker will fill the spot vacated by the underrated Blake Green this season.
Pros: Good job security, highly rated at the Sea Eagles, will play 80 minutes.
Cons: He won't be a dominant half alongside marquee man Daly Cherry-Evans, so could be restricted to very few kick metres and attacking stats. Will largely rely on his running game and tackles to score Fantasy points.
Broncos FRF, $365k, in 30% of teams
After a couple of years out of the NRL, Lodge has been given a chance by the Broncos and is set to replace Adam Blair in Brisbane's starting front row.
Pros: Lodge starred for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup last season and is capable of playing big minutes up front for Brisbane. A break-even of 25 means he could jump $150,000 in value if he manages a mediocre 35 points a game.
Cons: He only has a dozen NRL matches to his name and hasn't played at this level for a couple of years, so there are no guarantees Lodge will be an instant success at the Broncos.
Warriors CTR/WFB, $283k, in 29% of teams
The Kiwis international joins the Warriors after a stint with English Super League club Warrington Wolves. Bofore that he spent a couple of seasons with the Penrith Panthers.
Pros: Looks set for a starting berth, and as an experienced player he should hold onto a spot in the centres.
Cons: Warriors outside backs are notoriously erratic options in Fantasy, and Hiku himself has never really been a strong Fantasy scorer.
Wests Tigers CTR, $228k, in 26% of teams
After a strong World Cup campaign with Fiji, Milne joins the new-look Tigers after being largely used off the bench for the Dragons last season.
Pros: If he gets a start in the centres he should be a steal.
Cons: Will he start? Milne seems to have fallen down the pecking order in the pre-season, with Esan Marsters and Kevin Naiqama preferred in the centres. If he's limited to a bench spot – let alone misses a place in the 17 – he won't improve on last year's Fantasy performances.
Sharks WFB, $212k, in 22% of teams
The rookie most likely to make his NRL debut in round one, Katoa looks set to be named at right wing for Cronulla next week.
Pros: He's the tackle-busting type of winger who can score well in Fantasy, impressing in the pre-season with tries in both matches. He's base price as well so only needs 25 points a game to rise about $150,000 in value.
Cons: He may struggle to get much ball on the end of a backline now featuring strike weapons Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan, and wingers are notoriously unreliable Fantasy scorers.
Raiders HOK, $228k, in 18% of teams
Former Warrior Havili has his nose in front in the race to replace the injured Josh Hodgson as Canberra's hooker this season.
Pros: He starts at an outrageously low price for a starting hooker in Fantasy, even if he doesn't play 80 minutes a week (which he won't).
Cons: There is a lot of competition for the Raiders No.9 jersey with Craig Garvey and new signing Ata Hingano challenging for a bench spot at the very least, while Aidan Sezer also spent some time at hooker in Canberra's sole trial game with Sam Williams another option for the halves. If Havili struggles he could lose the starting spot. Havili has never averaged better than 15 points a game in Fantasy, albeit primarily as a bench player.
Panthers FRF/2RF, $228k, in 17% of teams
After playing just 22 minutes a game last season, and scoring 14 points a game, Kikau has edged into Penrith's starting side in pre-season. If he holds that spot he looms as a round one bargain.
Pros: A starting second-rower at near base price is a steal.
Cons: 2017 Fantasy favourite Corey Harawira-Naera returned from injury via the bench in Penrith's final trial match and could easily bump Kikau out of the starting side by round one. Even if Kikau is named in the starting side in round one he could lose that spot to Harawira-Naera or James Fisher-Harris at any point, with Isaah Yeo a lock in the other second-row spot.
Broncos CTR/WFB, $228k, in 15% of teams
Isaako has replaced the injured Darius Boyd at fullback for Brisbane in the pre-season trials and is considered the man most likely to get a spot on the wing if Corey Oates makes a move to the forward pack.
Pros: Isaako is a great price for a starter in any position, and if he can match Oates' 35 points a game he'd be a big moneymaker in Fantasy.
Cons: Despite Oates' desire to move into the second row there are still no guarantees Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett will grant him his wish, and if Oates returns to the wing in round one or later Isaako will almost certainly be gone from the side.
Wests Tigers WFB, $228k, in 14% of teams
The former Bulldogs winger enjoyed a strong couple of seasons in the English Super League and is now the frontrunner to start at fullback at the start of the season with Tuimoala Lolohea struggling for fitness.
Pros: Fullbacks generally score better than wingers in Fantasy, and if Thompson can match his output on the wing in 2014 and 2015 (averaging 27 and 30 in those years) he can bring his price tag to around $400,000.
Cons: Even if he starts in round one, how long can Thompson keep a player as talented as Lolohea out of the Tigers' starting side? The Tigers face a very tough start to the season (Roosters, Storm, Broncos, Eels, Storm again) and if they suffer some heavy early losses the pressure will be on to make changes, and Thompson could easily become one of those.
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