With the first week of the Toyota NRL Dream Team head-to-head finals having come and gone, a lot of DT coaches now find themselves without a game to focus on this week. Only 50 per cent of head-to-head coaches are involved in a match-up this weekend, with the two top-ranked winners in each league getting the week off and the lower-ranked losers from last weekend bowing out of this year's competition.
So this week has been a time for those coaches to sulk around and dream of what might have been, but that time is now over. There's another prize on the horizon – a $3000 prize to be exact, plus another batch of weekly prizes (and Dream Teams who are out of contention for their league are still in the running for this week's top score prize, of course).
That $3K prize will be going to the winner of Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals, the brand new competition that will kick off once the regular Dream Team season has ended. Many of you will have picked your 13-man Finals team already, but there's still plenty of time to fine-tune your side until then.
So this week I'll focus on some of the new tactics you should keep in mind when picking your Finals Dream Team.
Before that though, for those focused on this weekend's games, a couple of points on two key players plus the all-important captaincy choice.
Firstly, yes the late mail is that Corey Parker is now just about certain to play for the Broncos tonight. He can't be fully fit yet, so don't rush into making him your captain, but certainly put him into your 17 if you've got him (and keep an eye on NRL.com before lockout tonight for confirmation that he's in the final Broncos line-up.)
Do you trade him back in after trading him out last week? That's a different question – but probably still a trade worth making if you've got a couple left. Even if he doesn't play the full 80 minutes at full capacity, Parker is a proven Dream Team champion and should still score 50 points.
Another much-talked about player this week has been Warriors rookie sensation Konrad Hurrell, who delivered his worst score of the season last weekend (a woeful 8). Despite that, I'm keeping him in my side this week. Last week's disaster came due to seven missed tackles, plus two handling errors and a penalty, as well as the fact he didn't make any real impact in attack when the Warriors were thumped by the Cowboys. It should be a different story this weekend when the New Zealanders host a Panthers side that is a big chance of taking out this year's wooden spoon, and if Hurrell can cross the tryline once or twice his score will head back up towards the 50-point mark.
And if you're the underdog in this weekend's match-up, take a risk when selecting your captain. Cameron Smith is still the safest bet after last week's 110, but a lot of other players have the potential to hit the ton – as Michael Gordon and Jarrod Mullen did last week. So try to pick a different captain from your opponent if you think their squad has the edge. Take a look at the fixtures, make your predictions (will Greg Inglis bag a hat-trick at Cronulla? Will Ben Barba run rings around the Tigers? Will Nathan Hindmarsh make 100 tackles against the Titans?) and base your captaincy choice on that.
Now, for a few general tips when picking your Finals Dream Team.
1) There are no "cash cows"
...Which isn't to say there are no bargains. In fact, bargain buys will be crucial in a competition that will really test your ability to fit a squad under the salary cap (in Week 1, anyway). The reason there are no "cash cows" as such is that player prices won't move at all in the four weeks of Finals Dream Team, so you can forget about break-evens and the like.
Next week I'll run through position-by-position and pick out a few smart-looking buys for Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals, but some early cheapies that have caught my eye already include Josh Jackson (second row, $129,300), Chris McQueen (centre or fullback/wing, $147,400) and maybe even Kane Linnett (centre, $183,800, and averaging almost 60 in the last three rounds). Prices are based on a player's performance leading up to last week when the Finals game went live, so players who have hit form late in the season are likely to be undervalued.
2) Pick a couple of stars
Your first tendency when picking your Finals Dream Team will be to just find 13 decent players who fit under the cap. But although it's good to get an even spread of talent across your squad, also keep in mind the importance of one or two star men.
Your captain will be awarded triple points in Finals Dream Team, with the vice captain getting double points (as was the case in the All Stars and Origin mini-games). So you're better off aiming to fit a couple of 55-point players in your side, rather than a whole team of 45-point players.
Of course, squeezing in the likes of Cameron Smith or Corey Parker into your team is no easy feat, but then again Smith and Parker aren't the only players who can post big Dream Team scores. As I've said, Gordon and Mullen both brought up the 100 last weekend, and Sharks prop Andrew Fifita and rookie Tigers winger Marika Koroibete hit the ton the week before. Any of those guys would have made great captaincy choices in those weeks.
The reason Smith and Parker are expensive is that they're the most consistent high scorers, so if you're going to avoid the pricier players at least give the captaincy and vice captaincy to players who are capable of piling on a big score in week one.
3) Team match-ups matter
The top four clubs as ranked by Dream Team points this season are the Bulldogs, Storm, Cowboys and Rabbitohs. That's pretty much the top four in the NRL as well (the Cowboys actually sit in fifth on the ladder, and the Rabbitohs are third).
That shows that players from winning NRL teams tend to post big Dream Team scores. It stands to reason, but it's something that you should really think about when you pick your squads in Finals Dream Team.
So before you finalise your team, make your predictions for how each of the finals games will go. Then consider filling your team with players who will be on winning teams in Finals Week 1. This is especially important for backline players, who rely on attacking stats for Dream Team points.
4) Your players have to actually play in the finals
This is an obvious one, sure, but after a few "why can't I pick Jake Mullaney?" questions this week, I thought it was worth pointing out that Finals Dream Team will only involve players from the eight teams who will play in the finals.
Eels, Panthers and Roosters players are already unavailable for selection, and more players will drop out of the game as their teams are ruled out of top-eight contention. So no matter how good a player Nathan Hindmarsh is, even the great man himself is unlikely to score many points in Finals Dream Team.
That's all for now. Next week I'll run through some smart buys for the finals, position-by-position.
For those involved in this weekend's games, the best of luck.
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