The latest news you need to get an edge on your competition in NRL Fantasy this season.
Haas's cash cow value plummets
He's currently the most popular front-rower in Fantasy and the second-most owned player in the game, but Payne Haas's prospects as an early season cash cow have nosedived after he was suspended for the first four rounds by the Broncos.
The heavy punishment came after Haas failed to co-operate with the NRL Integrity Unit regarding an incident involving his family.
It means the 20-year-old won't be available for selection until Brisbane's round five clash with the Tigers, so he now looks a better option as a round six pickup when your early-season cash cows have hit their peak price.
Blow for Brimson
He was one of the breakout stars of 2018 but Titans young gun AJ Brimson will have to make do with a bench utility role at the start of the new season with Michael Gordon to wear the No.1 jersey in round one.
Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan said the experience of the 35-year-old Gordon had given him the edge over the 20-year-old Brimson.
"He's well respected and it's like having another coach out there," Brennan told NRL.com.
"He's at the back-end of his career but he's a very smart footballer. He knows his stuff and he's a blessing for me because it's like having a coach out on the field."
Panthers backline becomes clearer
Dylan Edwards has pipped New Zealand skipper Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to the fullback position at the Penrith Panthers, with Watene-Zelezniak likely to start on the wing as he returns from knee surgery.
Meanwhile halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney will swap sides of the field in 2018, with Maloney to defend alongside Isaah Yeo and Dean Whare while Cleary will line up between Viliame Kikau and Waqa Blake.
It's a switch that could bring slight improvements in both halves' Fantasy scoring, with Maloney's biggest weakness – missed tackles – to be limited alongside two defensive maestros while Cleary could rack up more assists or line breaks playing beside attacking weapons Kikau and Blake.
Good signs for Morris, Radley; Tedesco kept quiet
Brett Morris's Fantasy stocks received a big boost with a hat-trick on his Roosters debut in their World Club Challenge win against Wigan on Monday morning, in a game that also gave a couple of other clues for Fantasy coaches.
Morris had to do it all himself for all three tries, finishing with 11 tackle breaks, 108 metres and 20 tackles after being tasked with replacing Latrell Mitchell in the centres. That tackle count will drop but the metre count may rise when he lines up on the wing in round one.
Victor Radley was another winner after being picked ahead of Isaac Liu in the No.13 jersey, as he was in last year's grand final, although he was outscored by busy bench forward Nat Butcher.
Jake Friend did his usual thing in the middle with 50 tackles, while Fantasy's most expensive fullback James Tedesco was kept quiet for much of the game and finished with a Fantasy score in the 20s.
Meanwhile on Saturday night Payne Haas did his chances of getting decent game time no harm with a starring role for a second-string Broncos side against the Souths-Logan Magpies.
Andrew Fifita goes back to work
Indigenous All Stars and Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita reminded everyone of his worth to the Fantasy game with a huge night in the Harvey Norman All Stars clash.
The 73 Fantasy points earned by Fifita was clearly the best of the players who took the field. No other players got more than 50.
Fifita's night included 170 runs metres and 36 tackles. No wonder he isn't cheap for Fantasy managers.
Other performances of note in the All Stars game included: James Roberts (49 points) and Esan Marsters (45 points).
Brown stars for Eels
A near NRL-strength Eels side dominated a mostly reserve grade Canberra outfit in the first half of their eventual trial loss to the Green Machine but the headline for Fantasy coaches was the strong form of young half Dylan Brown.
Brown has one hand firmly on a blue and gold No.6 jersey for round one after combining well with fellow playmakers Mitch Moses, Clint Gutherson and Reed Mahoney as the Eels raced out to a 20-0 lead.
Best of all, Brown showed no hesitation backing himself to run the footy, making several half breaks and tackle busts.
He also displayed an accurate long kicking game, and while Moses can be expected to take the bulk of kicks for the Eels this year, an extra few Fantasy points from say 100 or 150 kick metres per game would be gold for a cash cow like Brown.
Michael Jennings' trademark speed was back in one long run and another freakish try, meaning he may end up on the radar of a few coaches after a sluggish 2018.
The forward pack looked strong and while Junior Paulo has never really had enough minutes to make him a Fantasy prospect, three first-half offloads and some huge runs suggest if he gets anything like 50 or more minutes (more than possible given his impressive fitness) he could be a smokey as a mid-ranger.
There was little on show for the Raiders given most of their top squad was sitting out but Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad looked much more comfortable in the fullback role than Bailey Simmonson, who had a mixed opening at the back.
With Jack Wighton set for a five-eighth switch and Nic Cotric looking likely to remain on the wing, it was a positive sign for the former Warriors winger.
New role for the Fantasy king Smith
For years he's been a dominant force in NRL Fantasy but two factors are set to change Cameron Smith's game-day role at the Melbourne Storm this season. One is the departure of Billy Slater, following Cooper Cronk's exit a year earlier, which makes the 35-year-old Smith a more crucial attacking weapon than ever. The other is the rise of fellow hooker Brandon Smith, who the Storm don't want to lose as Cameron serves out two more years as Melbourne's No.9.
For those reasons the Storm are planning to ease the dummy-half workload on Cam Smith and give more time to Brandon this year. Cam will continue playing 80 minutes unless the Storm are on their way to a comfortable win, and NRL.com understands the reshuffle "won't change his defensive load". But the idea of taking some responsibilities off the plate of one of the busiest players in the game is not a great sign for Cam Smith's prospects of reeling off 60 Fantasy points a week as he's done in the past.
Newcastle centre watch
Knight recruit Hymel Hunt is set to start at left centre for Newcastle in round one in place of the injured Tautau Moga, but it may not be for long with Moga on track to return from an ACL injury via the Intrust Super Premiership in the opening rounds of the season. Moga himself is arguably a better cash cow option than Hunt, considering his $228,000 starting price – although in three full games last year his top score was 23.
Meanwhile Sione Mata'utia is set to start in the second row after playing the entire 2018 season in the centres, according to the Newcastle Herald.
Lomax on track for Dragons wing spot
It's hardly groundbreaking news but in-demand young gun Zac Lomax does look set to reward Fantasy coaches by lining up in the Dragons' first-choice backline this season, albeit on the wing.
The NSW under-20s star has voiced a preference for fullback or the centres but is happy to line up anywhere in the Red V side, and the presence of Gareth Widdop, Euan Aitken, Tim Lafai and back-up fullback Matt Dufty at St George Illawarra means Lomax will have to settle for a wing spot.
Murray, Momirovski set for starting spots
Cameron Murray's elevation from promising bench player to legit Fantasy star is a step closer with news he is set to wear the Rabbitohs No.13 jersey this season. With Angus Crichton now at the Roosters, Sam Burgess is set to move from lock to the second row to accommodate Murray at lock.
Murray scored 40 Fantasy points a game last year, when he played primarily off the interchange, but averaged 52 in games when he started in the forward pack.
New Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire still has a decision to make in his halves, with Josh Reynolds still battling Benji Marshall for the five-eighth role alongside reigning Dally M Halfback of the Year Luke Brooks.
But one player who does look set for a start is new centre Paul Momirovski, who has arrived from the Roosters. He has a break even in the low 30s with a price tag of $472,000 in NRL Fantasy.
Why a start may not be enough for Gavet
Knights recruit James Gavet has impressed at pre-season training with his new club and is pushing for a starting spot in the Newcastle line-up in round one alongside David Klemmer.
Gavet is competing with rising star Daniel Saifiti and Maroons forward Tim Glasby for a starting spot, so it will be no easy feat to land a starting spot.
But if he starts he's a Fantasy buy, right?
Not necessarily. Gavet started in the bulk of his 18 regular-season appearances for the Warriors last year, and averaged 27 Fantasy points from 37 minutes of game time per week. Even on the couple of occasions he played 50 minutes he still only scored 36 and 20 (his season-high score was 37 against the Sharks).
The Knights suddenly boast a stacked forward pack that could share the Fantasy points fairly equally, making most Newcastle forwards no-gos for the start of the season. The exception could be Sione Mata'utia, whose scoring could jump from 30 to 40 per game if he locks down an 80-minute spot in the second row after spending the entire 2018 season at centre.
Tapine to prop up rejigged Raiders pack?
After years of boasting the biggest (but not necessarily best) forward pack in the competition, Canberra have lost man mountains Shannon Boyd and Junior Paulo this year and replaced them with English duo John Bateman and Ryan Sutton and depth signing JJ Collins (formerly JJ Felise).
Bateman is a second-rower who has also played centre, leaving a hole in the front-row rotation – where Fantasy coaches are hoping a young gun like Emre Guler could step up.
Instead, the Green Machine may opt to switch Joe Tapine from an edge forward to a middle, as they've done with Sia Soliola and Josh Papalii in recent years.
"We've [Tapine and Papalii] been training a bit of both and building other combinations in the middle," Tapine told NRL.com.
"It's going to be a tough gig to get a cemented spot in the pack this year. Losing Boyd and Junior – they were big leaders on the field. I've got to step up in certain areas and improve my game."
Cash cow watch: Warriors rookie to replace Johnson
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has confirmed the club won't be chasing a recruit to replace departed superstar Shaun Johnson after the Kiwis playmaker was granted a release in late 2018 to join the Cronulla Sharks.
That means one of 21-year-old Adam Keighran, 19-year-old Chanel Harris-Tavita or 19-year-old Hayze Perham will start alongside Blake Green in the halves in round one.
Whoever gets named will be picked in a lot of NRL Fantasy teams, with all three at the cheapest possible $212,000 price.
The only issue could be job security for whoever gets the nod, with a poor run of form in the early rounds likely to prompt Kearney to rotate his halves until he finds the right fit.