Panthers forward Viliame Kikau.

With NRL Fantasy coaches cooling their heels as the Telstra Premiership takes a break for the representative weekend, NRL.com's Lone Scout looks back at the best and worst from the first half of the season.

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Buy of the year: Damien Cook

Once in a while, you get a player who is so good and so underpriced that he becomes a cash cow and a keeper, but this may be the first time such a player was also the very best scorer in the entire competition. Cook ranks just behind Viliame Kikau in the cash cow stakes with exactly $400,000 in price rises after 15 rounds but he's also edged ahead of Cameron Smith to be the best scorer in Fantasy with 62.8 points a game.

Honourable mentions: Jai Arrow +$333,000, 53.9 average; Kalyn Ponga +$248,000, 56.7 average

NSW hooker Damien Cook.
NSW hooker Damien Cook. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Best cash cow: Viliame Kikau

Kikau started the year at the Panthers as a $228,000 forward with a towering 195cm, 119kg frame and some impressive World Cup performances for Fiji under his belt. Whether he could transition from an impact man in the Sam Kasiano mould to a genuine Fantasy force was the big question. He answered it almost instantly, crashing over for a try and 63 points in round one then bouncing back from a quiet round two with back-to-back 50s. After 15 rounds he's averaged 45 points a game and earned a massive $403,000 in price rises to be the best value player in NRL Fantasy.

Honourable mention: Siliva Havili replaced the injured Josh Hodgson as Raiders hooker for the first half of the season and only got better as the season went on, reeling off a string of 50+ scorers and earning $395,000 in price rises.

Panthers forward Viliame Kikau.
Panthers forward Viliame Kikau.

Most popular player: Kalyn Ponga

The people have spoken and they've got this right, with Ponga not just a genuine keeper and a moneymaker (his price tag has climbed by $248,000 this year) but with an average of 56.7 he's also almost eight points a game clear of James Tedesco as the best winger/fullback in Fantasy. He ranks first in the league in tackle breaks, line-break assists and kick return metres and looks like a player you'll need to build your Fantasy team around for years to come.

Best point-of-difference surprise packet: Daniel Alvaro

Eels prop Alvaro has been a steady improver in his three seasons in the NRL, averaging 28 Fantasy points a game in 2015, 34 in 2016 and 38 last season, but he's taken his game to a new level this season as the standout of what has usually been a beaten Eels pack. Used primarily as a bench player in the past, Alvaro has started in 12 of his 15 games this year and the increase in minutes have led to an increase in points – he's played 48 minutes a game for an average score of just under 52. Along the way he's risen in value by $217,000 and is still only in 4.6% of Fantasy teams.

Honourable mentions: Sharks young gun Jesse Ramien looks a keeper in the centres with an average of 41.1 and is in only 3.2% of teams, while Alvaro's teammate Peni Terepo cashed in on a run in the starting side following Nathan Brown's injury with an average of 45 and a huge $367,000 in price rises.

Biggest flop: Bryce Cartwright

After being a low-minute bench player in his final season at the Panthers Bryce Cartwright looked like a bargain with the promise of a key starting spot at his new club the Titans, only to play his way back onto the bench by round four. He started the season cheap but has only got $44,000 cheaper so far in 2018.

Honourable mention: It seems sacrilegious to say, but Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston has dropped in value by $222,000 this season with an average under 33 to be one of the most underwhelming Fantasy performers of the year. That average is lower than guys like Matt Frawley, Kieran Foran and Ben Hampton this season and 25 points a game below Thurston's best Fantasy season in 2015.

Biggest early-season scare: Cameron Smith

The greatest NRL Fantasy player of all time made a rock-solid start to the season with 61 points in round one before a minor blip that would spook thousands of Fantasy coaches. First came a score of 44 – not a disaster by any means but a lower score than any of Smith's 80-minute games in 2017 – and then an even 50. But in round four disaster struck with the Storm captain sin-binned for the first time in his career at the end of an underwhelming attacking performance that netted him just 23 Fantasy points. Many declared "the king is dead" and traded him out for cheaper alternatives (or the rapidly improving Damien Cook) but Smith bounced back with a vengeance with 84 the following week and more quality displays, including a 97 against the Cowboys last month.

South Sydney forward Cameron Murray.
South Sydney forward Cameron Murray. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Trade rage award: Cameron Murray

There's always one player who somehow uses up more than his fair share of trades for your squad, and for at least one of us (ie. yours truly) that player was Cameron Murray, who inexplicably used up four of my trades this season. Like many, I left the Rabbitohs tackle machine out of my squad at the start of the season when he was relegated to the bench in his return from injury, then brought him in when he returned to the starting side at lock. I then wasted a trade on him when he copped a two-week injury (bringing in Shaun Johnson, who immediately got injured himself) and then wasted another trade bringing Murray back in only to see him lose his starting spot due to the form of the three Burgess brothers at Souths. When I traded him out last week for Nathan Brown it was the fourth trade I'd used on him this season. How my team is still sitting in the top 150 is beyond me. If you've got a similarly frustrating trade saga from this year, let me know on Twitter.

Honourable mentions: Tevita Pangai jnr, Viliame Kikau

Blast from the past award: Robbie Farah

Once upon a time (well, about three years ago) Farah rivalled Cameron Smith and former Broncos lock Corey Parker as the best player in NRL Fantasy. An 80-minute hooker who made 45 tackles a game and scored heavily through kick and run metres and the occasional assist, Farah scored in the mid-60s consistently in 2013 and 2014 and in the mid-50s in 2015. His minutes dropped in a tumultuous 2016 season at the Tigers and he shared game time with Damien Cook at the Rabbitohs last year, before finding himself out of Souths' top 17 this season. But Cook's rapid rise has surprisingly given Farah the chance to shine again, playing the full 80 minutes in two games either side of Origin I with Cook on NSW duty for scores of 64 and 61. Now a mid-season switch back to the Tigers means he could once again become a 50+ scorer in the final part of the season. At just $570,000 he's priced as a 40-point player and could be a dream pickup for those looking for bench depth in the run home.

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