Last week, I rated the pros and cons of the top 10 most popular cash cows of the NRL Fantasy season, and today I'm looking at the other end of the spectrum and profiling which big guns are worth your cash at the start of the year.
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Before we get to the big names, some big news when it comes to NRL Fantasy prizes this season. There are now many more ways to win, with prizes breaking down as follows.
- 1st in NRL Fantasy: $10,000 + VIP trip to '19 Origin II in Perth + your club champion prize
- 2nd prize: $2000. 3rd prize: $1500. 4th prize: $1000. 5th prize: $500
- Weekly prizes - Top score: $750. 2nd: $250. 3rd: $50 KFC voucher. 4th: $20 KFC voucher. 5th: $10 KFC voucher.
- Club champion: 16 club champion prizes allocated by each club (see details here)
- Early League Creator prizes: Fantasy - go in a draw to win a VIP trip for two to the NRL Grand Final by registering a new league with 16 or more teams; Draft - go in a draw to win a $300 NRL Shop voucher by starting a new league with eight or more teams.
So now you know what you're playing for (apart from bragging rights against your mates), here are the pros and cons of the NRL's top 10 most popular elite players.
Cameron Smith (Storm HOK, $917,000, in 37% of teams)
The best player in rugby league is also the best player in NRL Fantasy, and just edges out Jason Taumalolo as the most expensive player at the start of the season.
Pros: He's as reliable as they come, scoring in a variety of ways – tackles, run metres, kick metres, offloads, try assists, 40/20s, goals – and could do more playmaking than ever with Cooper Cronk no longer at the Melbourne Storm.
Cons: Smith turns 35 this year and while he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down yet he could be rested at times during the season with talented young hooker Brandon Smith also at the club.
James Tedesco (Roosters WFB, $761k, in 31% of teams)
The NSW halfback has made the switch from the Wests Tigers to the star-studded Roosters and looks set to again be Fantasy's leading winger/fullback.
Pros: A tackle break machine who can also create opportunities for teammates (he had 10 line-break assists and eight try assists last year), Tedesco only scored five tries in his last season at the Tigers and could get far more opportunities at a quality Roosters side this season.
Cons: Tedesco may be going to a stronger club but the flipside of that is he'll no longer necessarily be the main man in attack, and may have the ball in his hands less often than he did at the Tigers. So more tries could be balanced out by fewer run metres and tackle breaks.
This is how we league - NRL 2018
Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys 2RF, $914K, in 27% of teams)
The most destructive forward in rugby league is coming off a stunning season for the Cowboys and an equally impressive World Cup for Tonga.
Pros: He almost matched Cameron Smith's scoring last season with a ridiculous 203 metres and five tackle breaks on average every game. In terms of middle forwards, they don't get any better.
Cons: Can he possibly match last year's heroics now that he'll have the help of Kangaroos props Matt Scott and Jordan McLean? Even if Taumalolo's minutes remain unchanged he's unlikely to be called on for as many hit-ups as he was in 2017.
Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys HLF, $647k, in 23% of teams)
The legendary playmaker returns after a season-ending shoulder injury for a Cowboys side many consider the premiership favourites.
Pros: Last year's injury-affected season means Thurston has a break even of 44 points – well below his season averages in any of the past five years. In 2014 and 2015, he averaged in the mid-50s putting him among the elite Fantasy halves.
Cons: He's undervalued, but by how much? In Thurston's absence in the back end of 2017, his halves partner Michael Morgan became a star, and the two can be expected to share the playmaking duties far more than in previous years. If Thurston can't lift his average past 50 points a game, he's unlikely to be a Fantasy keeper.
Having a laugh at JT
Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs CTR/WFB, $631k, in 16% of teams)
He was Queensland's player of the series in last year's State of Origin triumph from the wing but Dane Gagai is set to thrive in the centres for South Sydney after making the switch from Newcastle.
Pros: Already an elite Fantasy centre in his time at the Newcastle Knights, Gagai should theoretically get more attacking chances at a Rabbitohs side that is much stronger than last year's wooden spoon outfit. His dual position status is also handy, especially early in the season when you're unlikely to have serious depth in the outside backs.
Cons: It's hard to see Gagai going backwards, but are you willing to splash out $631,000 on a centre in round one?
Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles WFB, $688k, in 14% of teams)
A superstar in the making if he's not there already, Tom Trbojevic produced some incredible stats in the old under 20s competition and in recent years has started to go close to matching them at the NRL level.
Pros: He's already a legitimate Fantasy gun, is almost $100,000 cheaper than James Tedesco and at 21, should only improve from here.
Cons: He's not the dual-position WFB/CTR he was last season and he isn't quite the scorer Tedesco is.
Trbojevic Brothers Kick-off
Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles 2RF, $817k, in 12% of teams)
Tom's older brother is a completely different player but just as good – combining a big workrate, a crunching defensive game and classy ball-handling to be an international-quality lock and an NRL Fantasy star.
Pros: He's an 80-minute player who last year scored 50 points a game in base stats alone (37 tackles + 135 metres on average). With a top score of 94 and just one score below 40, there aren't many more reliable options out there.
Cons: Like his brother, Jake Trbojevic was excellent last year. Can he get better? At the start of a new Fantasy season, you ideally want to find value in as many players as possible and the Trbojevic brothers may be close to hitting their peak already.
Angus Crichton (Rabbitohs 2RF, $880k, in 11% of teams)
A breakout Fantasy superstar last season after starring on the right edge for South Sydney, Crichton is among the rival captaincy options if you don't splash out on Cameron Smith.
Pros: He breaks tackles like Jason Taumalolo, he plays 80 minutes, and he seemingly can't be stopped by injuries. NRL Fantasy coaches know exactly why the Sydney Roosters have already spent big on him for 2019.
Cons: Crichton was basically Superman last season – can he match those performances, let alone improve on them? He's no longer a secret weapon at the Rabbitohs and his big-minute role could potentially change considering he's jumping ship to the old rivals at the end of the year.
Nathan Cleary (Panthers HLF, $818k, in 11% of teams)
A one-time cash cow turned legitimate Fantasy gun, Cleary recovered from a quiet start to 2017 to roar back into form with a record-breaking score of 126 against the Warriors.
Pros: With a ton of kick metres and solid numbers for tackles, run metres and assists, Cleary is just about as reliable as they come in the halves.
Cons: James Maloney's arrival at the Panthers gives them another genuine half for the first time in a while (Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan having filled the No.6 jersey in recent years) and he could potentially take some points off Cleary.
Josh McGuire (Broncos 2RF/FRF, $679k, in 10% of teams)
A busy, no-nonsense lock at the Brisbane Broncos, McGuire hasn't been able to quite match the exploits of retired Fantasy king Corey Parker but remains a more than solid option up front.
Pros: He's dual position, his job security is great, and he'll probably get you around 50 points a game.
Cons: He's not in the very top bracket of Fantasy forwards, and isn't expected to be a huge moneymaker either.
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