When 2018 NRL Fantasy champion Brett Hicks finished sixth overall in 2015 he thought that was the closest he'd ever get to true Fantasy glory.
Charging into the overhauled 2018 structure, the "Junior Mints" coach had a simple strategy that paid off in the long run as he claimed top spot for the first time in round 24 and held off a few challengers though a tense final round to emerge with the coveted $10,000 prize plus an expenses-paid trip for two to Perth for next year's Holden State of Origin II.
"From the outset I was always going to run with three hookers, that was the only real strategy," Hicks told NRL.com.
Remarkably, Hicks only hit the lead in the competition for the first time in round 24 but timed his run to perfection after sitting 13th or better from round 11 onwards and eventually winning by 126 points.
His jackpot was boosted by a signed Dragons jersey for winning the club championship of his supported team. When he made the top 10 four years ago, the signed jersey and club championship was all he had to show for his efforts.
"I thought I blew my chances back then, I thought that's as high as I'd ever finish," Hicks said of his 2015 sixth-place finish. "You didn't get anything [for coming sixth overall], I just got a Dragons jersey back then."
Aside from his three-hooker strategy (Cameron Smith, Damien Cook and Siliva Havili to start, with the third spot eventually upgraded to Cameron McInnes via Mitch Rein), Hicks traded hard early to nab missed cash cows; he made three, four and two trades in the three bonus trade weeks and still kept a couple up his sleeve for the final weeks.
"I probably traded a bit more aggressively this year than I have in past years but I made sure I saved a couple in case there were injuries," he said.
"In that last bye round I might have saved one or two and it worked out okay because I was looking at a couple of guys that got injured like [Daniel] Alvaro."
His best move of the year?
"At the start was bringing [Ryan] Matterson in right away. I didn't hang onto [Matt] Lodge, I brought in [Andrew] Fifita straight away. When I was bringing guys in they seemed to go on runs."
Matterson was traded in for round five and immediately hit a triple-bunger of 70+ scores, Fifita came in for round eight and tallied 178 points in two games after a solid, if unspectacular, start to the year while Lodge was ditched after six rounds of price rises immediately before a run of four straight price drops.
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Any bad moves among all that?
"Definitely [Clint] Gutherson," Hicks said. "I brought him in for the bye rounds, I thought Parramatta and himself would go on a bit of a run but it didn't eventuate."
Hicks didn't share his promising Fantasy form with anyone other than a couple of mates who were in his league for fear of jinxing it but by the Saturday night in the final round – having finally found out you could look at other coaches' teams – he felt comfortable enough to let his wife know there was likely some good news on the way.
"It took me all 25 rounds to realise you could see people's full teams on the website!" Hicks said.
"Maybe that helped me through the year too. The Saturday night I went through the top five teams and said to my wife 'I think I've got this'."
Both the cash prize and the Origin trip were a huge bonus too.
"[The money] is on the home loan at the moment and we're getting a few things fixed up around the house," Hicks said.
"I haven't been to an Origin for a while. One of our planned trips has always been to the Margaret River so we're going to take an extra week so we'll travel down there after the Origin."