Another NRL Fantasy season is almost upon us and every Fantasy coach in the land is beginning to cast an eye to the 2019 NRL squads in search of value.
There is an uncomfortable question for most of us though, a harder question than 'which cash cows should I start with?'
That question is 'can I avoid the mistakes I made last year, and every year before that?'
We all make them. Even last year's grand prize winner made at least one clanger. Minimising those errors is the number one key to glory so with that in mind, here are the biggest mistakes we Fantasy coaches can't seem to stop making.
Chasing too many cash cows
Cash cows are the bread and butter of NRL Fantasy. Getting the right ones is important, getting the wrong ones can be disastrous but getting too many is almost always a recipe for failure.
In 2018, early-season buys like Corey Thompson, Siliva Havili and Matt Lodge all racked up solid early cash while Bryce Cartwright, Lachlan Croker and Sharks winger Sione Katoa gave plenty of coaches headaches. Mid-year buys like Rhyse Martin and AJ Brimson more than earned their keep. If you cashed down to Manase Fainu or Lachlan Lewis in round 16 you were probably in good shape.
But if you burned trades on the likes of Broncos youngsters Payne Haas and David Fifita, Titans winger Tyronne Roberts-Davis, Manly forward Jack Gosiewski, Dogs centre John Olive, any of the Eels debutants (Jaeman Salmon, Ray Stone, Oregon Kaufusi, Reed Mahoney), Cowboys Mitch Dunn and Jake Clifford, Knights halves Jack Cogger and Brock Lamb, or Cronulla's Scott Sorensen, to name but a few – chances are you wished you had those trades back when crunch time rolled around.
It's hard to know beforehand who will fire and who will fail but what is certain is if you burn too many trades on potential cash cows you are all but guaranteed to run out of trades and also struggle to score enough points week to week to have a serious chance at either overall or head-to-head glory.
Clinging on too long
It can be somewhat melancholic when a Fantasy gun of past years, who has served you well for many a season, starts underperforming week to week in your team. Whether it's the ravages of father time, the influence of a new coach impacting the players' minutes or stats, or a new gun player rising to prominence in the same team, sometimes yesterday's gun is today's baggage.
From Shaun Fensom and Corey Parker in 2016 to Paul Gallen, Trent Merrin, Johnathan Thurton and Simon Mannering in 2018, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and face up to the fact a long-time Fantasy superstar is now just a middling scorer who pumps out the occasional boomer.
Sometimes we see a one-time premo at a cheap price and expect them to reclaim that form to return and net us a discount keeper, but those of us who have been burned by Jesse Bromwich and even the 2018 Sam Burgess in recent seasons will be wary in future.
Just remember, it's better to cut your losses early than be stuck with an over-priced mid-ranger in your side through a whole season.
Jumping off too early
Not usually as costly overall as the previous error but still frustrating when it happens. This writer sold Jamayne Isaako after five weeks of unspectacular price-rises last year knowing that at some point the Broncos rookie would probably jag a few tries.
It didn't take long – Isaako scored a two-try boomer that very weekend which reignited his price rises and carried him another $150k or so past his premature sale price.
Another luckless coach recently shared a story from 2016, when he decided a returning Ben Barba was a bust after a poor score in round one, missing out on a bonanza of price rises.
My usually astute colleague, the Lone Scout, cost himself plenty of price gains by jumping off Tevita Pangai jnr very early last season.
Then of course there were the many coaches who were worried by a quad strain to the Fantasy GOAT Cameron Smith, who handed over general play kicking and goal kicking duties early in the season and returned below-par scores of 44 and a sin-bin affected 23 in the opening month, only to then immediately shrug off his injury and pound out an 84 with only one more sub-50 score in the next 12 rounds, ending above the price he started the season at.
These are all easy calls in hindsight; avoiding them in the first place can be trickier.
Returning to injury traps
We've all got certain players who end up in our 'never again' list after they burn us by getting injured at the worst possible time and costing us a big match-up or wasting a trade or two. But sometimes even when we know better we just can't help ourselves, or maybe just get plain unlucky.
Personally, I've had a horror year or two putting an injury curse on players. My coach's mock felled Jack Gosiewski and Scott Sorensen, as it has done previously for Trent Merrin and Sam Burgess among many others.
I bought Josh Dugan for round eight last year (remember there was a major shortage of reliable scorers in the centres) and he promptly broke his foot. While that is an unforeseeable injury, I was left to ask myself why I burned a trade (which quickly became two) on a player who has played more than 18 games in a season just twice in a 10-year career.
Chasing last week's points
This one takes almost more self-control than any of the others. Throughout a season there will of course be the odd monster score from someone who's not a noted Fantasy scorer – think Robert Jennings (a three-try 83 in round three last season) and Phillip Sami (71 with a hat-trick in round four). You just have to shrug your shoulders and move on.
Where it gets trickier is when a player who is on the Fantasy radar threatens to have a breakout season. Take Moses Mbye's 101 in round three (with two tries and a monstrous 17 busts); his price was already climbing after back-to-back 40s and a big jump in his average kick metres and plenty of coaches decided it was time to jump on.
A concussion-affected -1 the very next week could not have been predicted but was shocking luck for those that captained him. Still, he never came close to matching that 101 and a mid-season move to the Wests Tigers was the end of his kick metres and of his reliable scoring.
Then there are the coaches who will trade sideways between guns – for example selling Jason Taumalolo for Jake Trbojevic, or Martin Taupau for Andrew Fifita – because one outscored the other by 20 points the previous week, when they are likely to average similarly over a longer period. The key is to trade based on likely future scoring rather than hoping a one-off big score will be repeated week to week.