NRL.com's Lone Scout has a few things to keep in mind when making trades in the 2011 Toyota NRL Dream Team competition.

Apart from selecting your initial Dream Team line-up, your trading strategy will be the most crucial element in determining whether you are a contender or a pretender this season.

Smart trades early in the season can really set your team up for a big finish – where you'll need cash up your sleeve in order to bring in the NRL's big guns. So your aim should be to have a team packed with super stars come the end of the season, while also ensuring you are scoring maximum points during the year.

While it can't be done under your initial $4.2 million salary cap, building a star-studded team is possible if you play your cards right and make the most of the bargains (check out my other articles for a few tips on spotting the value buys).

In general, try not to make mass changes to your squad in the first half of the season. You can only make 30 trades during the year and although this may look like a lot at first, you'll find that trades are invaluable late in the season. You can only make two trades a week, so it's important to know which types of trades you should make, and which ones you shouldn't.

With that in mind, here are a couple of golden rules.

Depth

First up, make sure you have some depth in your initial squad. It may be tempting to pick 17 stars and fill up the rest of your 25-man squad with cheap duds, but remember – injuries and suspensions can come thick and fast when the season gets underway. You don't want to waste a trade every time one of your players becomes unavailable, so pick your initial squad wisely.

For instance an injured player isn't the end of the world – particularly if it's a short-term injury - if you've picked a balanced squad. If you can sub in a handy reserve who can score a decent points, you're often better off doing this in the long-run – and that's where we're aiming people; the GF.

Always keep in mind that trading out an injured man early on and then bringing him back later in the season will cost you two trades – trades you could have used elsewhere.

If a key player is out with an injury, use your best judgment. Will you be able to survive in the meantime without him? Will he be worth the wait when he gets back on the park? Do you have enough depth on the bench to exploit the emergency rule, while you wait for your man to recover from injury?

Don't Panic Early

The chances are you'll want to make sweeping changes to your team after seeing the player scores from Rounds 1 and 2. Think twice and avoid the dreaded trade rage.

Then there's the matter of trading someone out because of poor performance. Is the player's slump a one-off? Could he bounce back and score highly later in the season? Maybe your halfback had an off day, the young gun in your team didn't fire first-up. Don't panic!

Only trade those players who are long-term casualties that must be replaced (eg. your backrow gun is out for eight weeks with a ligament tear) or in such poor form that they are scoring poorly each week (and therefore, dropping in value week-on-week).

If you believe a player is significantly overvalued (eg. last year's 60-mimute prop is only getting 20 minutes a game in 2011), it is worth getting rid of him early, before his price falls too low.

Target Talent

When making a trade, aim to bring in one of two types of player – either an absolute gun who you'll want to keep all season, or a bargain buy whose value will improve as the season progresses.  There's no point having a squad of solid, middle-of-the-road players at the end of the season, when the best Dream Teams are making big scores. If you make smart use of your trades you should have the cash to stock out your starting 17 with top quality players, by the business end of the year.

Check out the Stats Centre each week (especially early on) and it will be obvious which players are going to be overachievers. Take note in the early weeks of the year of the cheap players who are scoring big points – they could add plenty of value to your team if you pick them up early, even if they are not starting every week.

Also, keep an eye on highly-regarded rookies like injured Dragons hooker Cameron King, Newcastle back-rower/centre Kyle O'Donnell and Cowboys workhorse Tariq Sims. They may not start for their clubs straight away, but could prove great value if they step up to first grade later in the season. The NRL is a war and good men go down. The key to DT success is registering who is stepping up to cover the hole.

Finally, remember that I'll be around during the season for some Q&A about trading. Whether you check it out via NRL.com, Facebook or Twitter the ensuing conversation can be very enlightening – there are DT experts everywhere and they love to talk shop.

Be Patient

Dream Team is a marathon, not a sprint.

Patience is key. At the risk of repeating myself, you are far better off finishing the season with a strong team than starting with one.

Don't believe me? Looking back at the top three-ranked Dream Team coaches after six rounds in 2010, it turns out none of them ended up finishing in the top 170 by season's end (one dropped all the way down to 922nd).

Patience is even more important for Dream Teamers taking on their mates in a private league. In head-to-head, it's all about having the best team come finals time. If you scrape into the Top 8, but have the best team in the finals, there's every chance you'll finish the season as your league's champ.

If you do opt for a rush of trades early on – and you may need to to keep your Top 8 chances alive – make sure you save some for the final stretch of the season. There's nothing worse than getting knocked out in week one of the finals because you can't cover a significant injury or two.

The Golden Rule

And the final word on trades – wait until the day of the lock-out before making any!

Many a Dream Team coach has rushed into making a trade early in the week – a sure sign of trade rage – only to find that the player they've brought into their squad is on the injured list when weekend comes around.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation, and don't fall into that trap!

Check out NRL.com on Fridays for the late mail from Sterlo and our other experts, these small tid-bits and rumours could just be your ticket to DT success.