Well here we are: the head-to-head league finals are underway with four weeks of Toyota NRL Dream Team left. With playoff games beginning this week – following the new NRL finals system – every match is crucial from here on in (even for teams who missed their league's top eight, who still have the chance to take out their league's "minor premiership").
You would have thought the Dream Team gods would be going easy on us by now, but no – instead, they've conspired to strike down Corey Parker with a shoulder injury that is reported to rule the great man out for between two and four weeks. It's not the only injury blow this week, but it's the one that will have most DT coaches scratching their heads.
Parker's 2-4 week prognosis is about as tricky as it gets, particularly when you consider his ability to bounce back from injuries quickly. At worst, he's out for the rest of the regular season, but at best he could make a speedy recovery and be back very soon. So, do you trade or not?
For Dream Teamers who have already used up all their trades, it's a simple case of hanging on and hoping for the best. But for the rest the question probably comes down to the number of trades you have left, plus whether you face a sudden-death match this week, as well as your prediction about how quickly Parker will be back. (Make sure you keep an eye on today's late mail and all the chat on Friday afternoon - there is even some suggestion Parker could play as early as this weekend. I'll keep you folks informed on Facebook and Twitter if I hear any more news today.)
Remember, in the head-to-head Dream Team finals, the top four teams play off against each other, with the winners getting a week off and the losers getting another chance next week. The teams ranked fifth to eighth must win every game from here on in to stay alive. (It's the same for the bottom eight, with teams 9-12 getting another chance and 13-16 playing sudden death.)
And speaking of the playoffs, I also announced during the week that the new Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals game has begun, with another $5000 in prizemoney up for grabs over the four weeks of the NRL finals series. That competition obviously gets going after Round 26, but you can jump in and pick your 13-man finals team now.
Now, onto this week's questions.
From Rob B (via email)
I'm currently debating whether to keep Corey Parker now that he is expected to be ruled out for two weeks. I have two trades in the bag but face the top-ranked player in my league this weekend and am unsure whether to sacrifice Parker for a consistent scorer (eg. Houston, Taylor) as I have most big-gun 2RF players, or to hold until the penultimate week of the finals which could prove costly if those funds are being wasted. What would be the best option in this case?
Here's my rule for Parker this week: if you're only down to one or two trades, and are in the top four (or placed 9-12), then hold onto Parker and hope for the best.
Best case: you win this week and get the following week off, and Parker is back to full fitness by the time Round 25 swings around.
Worst case: you lose, get another chance anyway, and can then make the trade if you have to (and Parker could make an early return by then).
On the other hand, if you have more than a couple of trades left and/or face a must-win game this week, then trading is probably the smart move. Which brings us to possible replacements...
From Terri Hardes (on Twitter)
I'm looking to offload Parker, who is the better choice: Hindy, Dave Taylor or Gavin Cooper?
I'd rank those three in the same order you did. In fact, here's how I rate all the second-row contenders as potential Parker replacements (most top Dream Teams will have a few of these guys):
1) Paul Gallen – yes he's not fully fit yet and only played 70 minutes last week, but the guy's a machine and will surely get back to his best quickly. His price will drop again after this week but he's $19K cheaper than Parker now anyway.
2) Shaun Fensom – A very close second, and I'm happy I don't have to pick between him and Gallen this week. Basically guaranteed to make 45+ tackles and is coming off a season-high 89-point effort.
3) Nathan Hindmarsh – His recent form card reads 64, 79, 67, 55. A rock solid option, although he's more expensive than Gallen and Fensom at the moment, if that matters to you.
4) Dave Taylor – A reasonably solid scorer despite not being a busy defender, and can produce big games when he terrorises teams in attack.
5) Gavin Cooper – A more reliable option than Taylor but less likely to produce the odd monster score.
6) Chris Houston – Has just reeled off three straight 50+ scores for the first time this year so he's hitting some good Dream Team form.
7) Tony Williams – You've got him in your team already, surely?
And finally, avoid Liam Fulton. He's been a great scorer this year but has now been moved to five-eighth, where scored just 26 last week. He'll presumably stay there for the next few weeks with the Tigers' forward pack at full strength, so stay away from him.
From Whare Rahiri (on Facebook):
Is Maloney likely to play?
The Warriors have rated Maloney as an "outside chance", which has been seen by some as foxing, considering he has got on the plane with the team to Townsville for this weekend's game.
The fact he travelled suggests he could play, but on the other hand there are reports that fellow injured Warriors Simon Mannering, Sam Rapira and Jerome Ropati (who's out for the season) also flew with the team for moral support. It means you can't read too much into Maloney travelling with the team, so I still rate him as unlikely.
He could nevertheless be a risk worth taking if you've got a decent auto emergency ready in your squad should Maloney not play, but I wouldn't risk both him and Parker - which could leave you with just 16 players, even with an emergency coming in.
From Donal Sapias (on Twitter)
I've persisted with Corey Norman. Now he is on the bench, is it time to trade him? Only have two trades left.
Norman has now been named to start at fullback this week in place of Josh Hoffman, who's been stood down by the Broncos for turning up late to training. That could mean a bit of a boost to his scores (which have been nosediving for a while now). In any case, with trades so valuable at the moment I'd just sit Norman in your reserves instead of trading if you've got the depth to cover his position.
There's still a strong chance he'll go back to the bench when Hoffman returns, meaning his scoring will stay low. The best time to trade him was probably a month or two ago, but if you do have trades to spare, or absolutely need a strong scorer in Norman's position, then trade up.
I've actually persisted with Norman for this long as well, but am keeping hold of him for now. The fact he's playing fullback could make him the perfect auto emergency this week (fingers crossed), so I'll leave him in my reserves and have him on standby for Corey Parker, who I'm now planning to leave in my starting 17.
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