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Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.

NRL Fantasy's best player Nathan Cleary is set to miss at least a month, leaving Fantasy coaches scratching their heads over one of the biggest decisions of the season.

This week I've got a deep-dive answer into that conundrum plus answers on Tevita Pangai jnr, David Fifita, Jeremy Marshall-King, Luciano Leilua and more.

This week's big questions

How long is Cleary out for? 3 weeks?

From Shane Beckensall

The official word came in from the Panthers on Wednesday that Nathan Cleary would be sidelined for "at least four weeks" as he undergoes rehabilitation on the shoulder injury he suffered in Origin II. Unfortunately that's just about the trickiest timing for NRL Fantasy coaches.

A four-week layoff would have Cleary back in round 20, with the best-case scenario that he continues his record-breaking Fantasy season (averaging 97 points a game!) for the final six rounds of the season. Even if the troublesome shoulder meant his scoring was to decline by 10 or 20 points he'd still be ahead of this year's next best scorers David Fifita (average 73) and Tom Trbojevic (average 71).

Adding to the uncertainty is the "at least" part of that statement, with the possibility that he takes another couple of weeks to come back from rehab. A six-week break would mean he's out until round 22, the start of the head-to-head Fantasy finals. That's too long a break if you're outside the top eight in your league and need wins now to make the finals – making him a likely trade.

There's also the risk that Cleary still undergoes season-ending surgery, with the Panthers having the option of seeing how his rehabilitation goes in the next few weeks before making a decision. If his shoulder doesn't show signs of improvement he could still opt for surgery.

So, is he a trade?

The crucial thing to keep in mind is, if Cleary does come back this season you'll want him in your team. So far this year Cleary has been the single biggest factor separating the successful Fantasy teams and the struggling ones. That'll be even more crucial in your league's head-to-head finals. So if you sell him now and he comes back in a month, you'll definitely want to have enough trades and cash in the bank to bring him back into your team quickly.

So if you're low on trades, or sitting pretty at the top of your league, I'd strongly consider holding. Cleary was always going to miss round 17 and potentially round 18 due to Origin, so if he's only out for a further two weeks it could be worth saving a couple of trades and keeping him.

If you need to climb the ladder in the next few rounds, and have the trades to be able to bring Cleary back in, then you could trade Cleary. Just keep in mind his you'll need to be able to afford his massive $1.21m price tag later so keep some spare money in the bank.

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Is Burton a buy now?

From Michael Gilliver

Cleary's replacement Matt Burton isn't a must-buy but he certainly looks like a good option now. He'll miss round 17 with a bye but should score well in three of the next four rounds – at least – with the potential to play halfback for up to five rounds, or the rest of the season if Cleary does end up undergoing surgery.

Keep in mind though that if and when Cleary returns, Burton will move back to the centres – where his scores rely heavily on tries. He's averaged 42 points at centre this season with nine tries in 10 games. His price will rise a little in the next month but at $609k he's hardly a bargain for a centre either, so if you've already got two or three good options at centre you may be better off looking elsewhere.

Is TPJ a sell if so for who? I am thinking Fifita.

From Adam Middleton

Yes with Tevita Pangai jnr to miss the next four weeks (a three-week suspension and Brisbane's round 17 bye) he is a sell unless you're sitting pretty at the top of your head-to-head league. Unlikey Cleary, Pangai isn't a must-have player when available so you can safely trade. David Fifita is pretty much a must-have, so that looks a good move.

TPJ to Haas?

From The Viking Clap

Good trade.

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Thoughts on Jeremy Marshall-King? Thinking of trading for Matterson or Brailey with 9 trades left.

From Craig Finkle

I'm not convinced. Marshall-King scored in the low 40s last year (even when playing 70+ minutes) and in the 30s before that, and although he's coming off two very good 80-minute scores there are indications they could both be outliers.

His 63 against the Dragons in round 14 included a try (he's scored five in 71 NRL games) and his 64 last week included 50 tackles and three tackle breaks (he's made 50 tackles just five times in his career, and made three tackle breaks or more seven times).

Meanwhile Brailey is clearly in a form slump but is still averaging 48.5 tackles and 60 points per game this year, and could potentially see an uptick in scores after a week off and with Newcastle getting back to full strength.

Even if Brailey, like Matterson, continues to score in the high 40s rather than 60s, there's no guarantee that Marshall-King scores any better in the run home so if you're trading I'd prefer to go with a more proven performer.

Is Luciano Leilua worth trading out considering the Tigers' form? Also is Jack de Belin a POD in the mid? He plays more minutes as every week goes by.

From Brody Akurangi

Leilua has struggled for points in the Tigers' last two games but there are still some reasons to keep the faith despite his team's form. For one thing, those two scores came against competition heavyweights the Eels and Storm, and after this week's clash with Souths five of the Tigers' last eight games are against bottom-eight teams.

For another, Leilua is the kind of player who can actually score well against any opponent. His average score in wins (50) is actually slightly lower than his average in losses (51.4) and his top two scores came against top-four teams Parramatta (67 in round 4) and Souths (61 in round 6). I'd be holding him for now.

Jack De Belin has been a Fantasy gun in the past and his price has tumbled after some low scores off the bench. He did start and play big minutes last round for a score of 45, so I'd wait until he produces a few scores in the 50s before considering trading him in.

What are you doing for players who are made to quarantine due to COVID at no fault of their own (eg. Curran)? Free trade? Apply their average for the weeks they are set to miss?

From Daniel Sorich

It's an unfortunate situation but players also get injured due to no fault of their own every week, so the usual system applies. If you decide to trade them out, it'll cost you a trade.

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Cameron Murray or Shaun Johnson? I'm playing for H2H and both seem in form. Johnson has an easier run home with a lot of scoring potential based off his last few games, but Murray has been a pretty reliable scorer this year before his injury.

From Matt Brock

For two players around the same price who should score somewhere in the mid-50s, it really depends on what positional coverage your team needs – a dual-position middle/edge forward or a half. You want at least one player on your bench/reserves covering every position, with more injuries and suspensions sure to come.

I picked up Johnson a couple of rounds back when his price bottomed out, partly due to his value, and as long as he maintains the halfback role alongside a non-kicking Matt Moylan he should score well. Murray is a very reliable scorer and while it's an awkward time to trade in an Origin forward (considering he'll miss round 17 and potentially round 18) he's still a solid buy for head-to-head.

 

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