The Telstra Premiership season is up and running and so is NRL Fantasy, with one round down and already plenty of injury and form news to get Fantasy coaches scratching their heads as they consider their first trades of the year.
Today NRL.com's resident Fantasy guru the Lone Scout names his starting 21-man squad for 2019, which had a mixed performance in round one.
Reed Mahoney (HOK)
Why not start with my biggest gamble? That's right: no Cameron Smith for the first time in years, no Damien Cook, no Cameron McInnes, no Andrew McCullough. This year I'm looking for value options absolutely everywhere in order to afford a stacked team at the end of the season, and Mahoney – while a gamble – has the potential to improve both as a player (he's only 20) and as a big-minute option at the Eels. At his price I'm hoping for 45 points a game before upgrading to one of Smith or Cook down the track. (I came very close to starting with McCullough but felt while he'll improve on 2018 it won't be enough to join the 'big two' as a 60-point player.)
Aidan Tolman (FRF)
Both a money-making option and a quality scorer, Tolman is a workhorse who thrived in Fantasy after Aaron Woods's exit last year and could hit close to 50 on a regular basis in a Bulldogs side that has just lost fellow prop David Klemmer.
Andrew Fifita (FRF)
With a few doubts over Fantasy other elite scorers, and a dearth of options in the front row, I've splashed out on Sharks wrecking ball Fifita as my starting skipper. He was huge in the pre-season – especially in the All Stars game – and is a more senior figure at Cronulla pack in the absence of Luke Lewis and Wade Graham. Already a terrific Fantasy scorer and if anything could improve slightly this year.
Cameron Murray (2RF)
Easy buy. Murray scores a point a minute in Fantasy and his game time will take off in 2019 as South Sydney's starting lock. Scores above 50 at his price will be a steal.
Jai Arrow (2RF)
Was superb for the Titans last year – especially before being troubled by niggling back problems and getting reduced minutes in the run home. Started the year priced as a 51-point player but could potentially push 60 on a regular basis.
Martin Taupau (FRF/2RF)
With quality front-row options thin on the ground, Taupau is a rock solid pick who covers a couple of positions and should again score well in a Manly side where he is one of a few genuine stars. Was actually a mid-round trade-in for me in round one, with an eye on future trades.
Michael Morgan (HLF)
A quality player who struggled with injuries and in a struggling Cowboys outfit last season, the hope is he'll get back to something like the incredible form he showed in 2017 while Johnathan Thurston was sidelined. Now the North Queensland captain and undisputed chief playmaker – and underpriced in Fantasy with a break even of 30 before round 1.
Dylan Brown (HLF)
A rookie half with great job security and a lot of promise, Brown is a no-brainer of a selection in Fantasy this year.
Best buys in 2019
Briton Nikora (2RF/CTR)
A rookie, starting second-rower, who's won the spot on merit (with Wade Graham not returning for the Sharks until midway through the season), Nikora would be a certainty for my team even if he wasn't also available at centre in Fantasy.
Kurt Capewell (2RF/CTR)
Another dual position player available at centre but playing in the second row for the Sharks as Luke Lewis's replacement, Capewell is priced as a 30-point player but should average closer to 40 – especially considering he is already in Fantasy's 100 club.
James Tedesco (WFB)
The one player I tend to select in round one more out of fear than anything – Tedesco is someone you hate to see in your opponent's head-to-head team when he goes big. The best fullback in Fantasy could get a little better if he starts 2019 the way he finished 2018, and there's no reason he can't in the strongest line-up in the NRL. His first-up score of 18 against Souths was very disappointing, but that can happen for attacking players in wet conditions – especially in a loss.
Braidon Burns (WFB/CTR)
Priced as a low-20s scorer, Burns has impressed when given his chance in the centres in the past and looks to have secured a starting spot in a very dangerous Rabbitohs backline. Should score around 30, covers both outside back positions, plus Damien Cook picked him as a Fantasy player to watch this year.
Mikaele Ravalawa (WFB/CTR)
Has beaten Zac Lomax to a wing spot at the Dragons, knows his way to the tryline, can beat a tackle or four and has dual-position flexibility. His defence and ability under the high ball remain in some doubt and with Lomax waiting in the wings he does remain somewhat risky. On the bright side he got through a lot of tackle breaks against the Cowboys for an excellent first-up score.
Victor Radley (HOK/2RF)
As the season began I was still on the Radley train despite some pre-season questions over his scoring (which may have been warranted). Priced at 34, Radley needs to score around 45 and could do that in 50-55 minutes a game at lock for the Roosters if he continues to improve as a player. He's just turned 21 and has already earned a starting spot for the premiers so there's plenty of upside there. Also covers two positions so is handy as a bench option, but he might not stick around in my side for too long...
Luke Garner (2RF)
A genuine cash cow at the Tigers, starting in the second row in place of the injured Chris Lawrence for a couple of months at the start of the season. Only needs to hit mid-30s to earn a lot of price rises, and started the year with a terrific 55.
Dylan Napa (FRF)
A bit of a gamble, this one. Napa's Fantasy scoring last year wasn't good, but cheap front-row options with good job security aren't in high supply this season and his workrate surely rises in both attack and defence at a Bulldogs side that won't dominate matches like the Roosters did, and that will be relying on Napa as a leader with ball in hand. Could be an early trade option.
Adam Keighran (HLF)
Keighran has first shot at being Shaun Johnson's replacement in the Warriors halves, kicks goals and is a solid general-player kicker. Fortunately I started him ahead of Brown in round one for his terrific 68 on debut.
Jordan Kahu (CTR/WFB)
I wasn't 100% confident in this selection but the rationale looks sound – Kahu has gone from bit-part player at Brisbane to the Cowboys' first-choice fullback and goal-kicker, which should be enough to get him around 30 points a game. At his price that's all he needs to be a success. He fell short of that in round one (due partly to time on the sidelines for a HIA) and could still be a flop or a slow-burning cash cow.
Thomas Mikaele (FRF)
A very late signing for the Scouts. By Saturday night I'd already started planning my first pair of trades, and with Napa looking shaky as a back-up prop following his score against the Warriors I was looking at strengthening that position while also freeing up cash for a planned upgrade elsewhere. One of the results was a mid-ranger being downgraded to Tigers rookie Mikaele, a product of the Keebra Park State High School system that produced Benji Marshall and Corey Norman, and he repaid the faith with 36 points in 31 minutes on debut.
Hame Sele (FRF/2RF)
Another late signing, Sele was promoted to the Penrith starting forward pack on Sunday and at $228k looked a potential bargain with the prospect of at least three weeks in the top 13 before the return of Viliame Kikau. Unfortunately after scoring 14 points in 17 minutes he was sidelined with an arm injury.
Maiko Sivo (WFB)
He's big, he's fast, he's Fijian, he's on the wing for an Eels team that has sorely missed Semi Radradra in recent years. Parramatta were very poor in terms of bringing the ball out of their own end last year and have looked to Sivo and Blake Ferguson to fix that. Was kept quiet on Sunday but if he keeps his spot he should earn his share of price rises.