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Lone Scout's DT bargains: The backs

Lone Scout NRL.com Thu, Feb 21, 2013 - 9:30 AM

With a cheap price tag, does former Australian international centre Willie Tonga deserve a place in your NRL Dream Team squad? Copyright: NRL Photos

Gday folks. How's your Dream Team squad coming along?

Last week I ran through some of this season's best rookie prospects, and for the next two weeks I'll name some other players who look undervalued at the start of the 2013 NRL Dream Team season. This week I'll analyse some of the bargain backs and next week I'll take a look at the forwards.

Before that, it's worth considering what makes an "undervalued" player?

The new $5.8 million salary cap in Dream Team this year means every player's price tag has gone up, so a few fans have asked on Facebook and Twitter how many Dream Team points you should expect a player to score, depending on their price. So after taking a quick look at player prices based on their scores last season, here's a rundown on how much bang you can expect for your buck.

Player price – Average weekly score
$515,000 – 65 points (eg. Paul Gallen last season)
$475K – 60 points (eg. Corey Parker)
$435K – 55 points (eg. Robbie Farah)
$395K – 50 points (eg. Greg Inglis)
$355K – 45 points (eg. Michael Jennings)
$315K – 40 points (eg. Akuila Uate)
$275K – 35 points (eg. Lachlan Coote)
$235K – 30 points (eg. Jamie Buhrer)
$195K – 25 points (eg. Lewis Brown)
$155K – 20 points (eg. Shane Shackleton)
$127K – 15 points (eg. Kevin Gordon)
$101K – Minimum rookie price (eg. Josh Drinkwater)

This is just a general rule; some players have had their price discounted if they only played a few games last season. But it's a handy guide to keep in mind when considering whether a player is overpriced or underpriced.

Speaking of which, here are a few backline players who could fit the latter category and make you some all-important Dream Team cash this season. As you'll see they all have their pros and cons, so weigh those up before snapping up any of these 10 players.

Michael Gordon (Sharks winger/fullback & centre, $285,200)
Pros:
Gordon is a brilliant ball-runner who shined in patches during his career at Penrith, and has now moved to Cronulla where he's likely to secure the full-time fullback spot. With more room to move and more kick returns, fullbacks generally score better than wingers in Dream Team, meaning Gordon's scores and price should go up this season. He also kicks goals, and is expected to pip Todd Carney to the kicking duties for the Sharks.
Cons: Gordon has played 16 NRL games in the past two seasons. In total. His recent injury record is pretty worrying, and players with a habit of breaking down can be incredibly frustrating for Dream Team coaches (see a couple of star halves on this list for examples). He's also a utility player capable of filling a role on the wing or in the centres, and if the Sharks move him out of the No.1 jersey his scores are likely to drop.

Daniel Tupou (Roosters winger/fullback, $135,800)
Pros:
Tupou's a rising star for the Roosters and a typically modern rugby league winger who is big, powerful and dangerous under the high ball. He played three games and ran in three tries last season, scoring an average of 25 DT points a game, and if repeats those kind of scores his value should lift to close to $200,000. And he looks set to start the season on the wing again.
Cons: As a winger, Tupou can't be relied on to score consistently well in Dream Team (for one thing, he won't score a try every week). He also starts more than $30K more expensive than the genuine rookies, so there could be more cash cow value elsewhere.

Willie Tonga (Eels centre, $127,700)
Pros:
Tonga is a Queensland Origin and Australian international centre, who starts the season costing just $127,700. That's almost $80,000 less than Tautau Moga, who was last season's big rookie flop (in Dream Team terms at least). His veteran status in an experienced Eels backline is likely to make his position safe, and his tony price tag must mean he'll climb in value... right?
Cons: Well, not necessarily. Unlike some on this list, Tonga's price tag is based purely on his performances on the field last year. He scored just 15 points a game, so is priced at what a 15-point player is worth. Before Tonga's price goes up, his scores will need to, and that means tries and tackle breaks in a Parramatta team that isn't being tipped by many to be a dominant force this season.

Lewis Brown (Panthers second-rower & centre, $197,300)
Pros:
Long-time Dream Team coaches will know the value of a dual-position second-rower/centre – in fact under the old scoring system the smart move was to stack your centres with as many back-rowers as possible. That's not quite the case anymore, but it's still a safe bet to fit a busy forward who will do his fair share of tackling into your backline if you can. Brown, who reunites with old coach Ivan Cleary at the Panthers this year, fits the bill, and should be battling for a starting spot in the Penrith pack. His sub-$200K price tag makes him pretty cheap as well.
Cons: The sheer number of player moves in and out of the Panthers in the off-season means their starting side remains a bit of a mystery, and as a club in transition they're likely to chop and change things if the results don't come early on. The men in black are particularly well-stocked in the back row. That could mean Brown could find himself on the bench, or possibly in the centres, where his scores are likely to take a dive.

Robert Lui (Cowboys half, $132,200)
Pros:
A troubled but talented halfback, Lui played a single game for the Cowboys last season – scoring 21 Dream Team points off the bench in Round 1 – before being suspended for the entire season over an off-field assault charge. The former Wests Tiger was recruited to partner Johnathan Thurston in the halves and may finally get that job this season. If he performs well alongside the Kangaroos star he should post some solid DT scores and see his price tag climb towards the $200K mark. And with fellow halfback Michael Morgan suffering a fractured jaw in a trial game against the Dragons on the weekend, Lui is expected to get first shot at the No.7 jersey in Round 1.
Cons: In Lui's absence last year young gun Morgan impressed at halfback for the Cowboys and there's every chance he could return to the starting side when he regains full fitness. Morgan's injury is expected to rule him out for the first four weeks of the season, but if he starts in Round 5 then Lui will only have had two price rises (a player's Dream Team price starts moving after they've played three matches). Lui will need to hold onto a starting spot to be a genuine cash cow, and after a year out of the game that might not be as easy as it sounds.

Kurt Gidley (Knights half, $231,300)
Pros:
The Newcastle skipper is a starting halfback and goalkicker who has a highest Dream Team score of 80, yet has the price tag of a 30-points-a-week player. A busy defender for a half, Gidley will also kick goals for the Knights and should climb in value if he stays on the field.
Cons: For all his strengths, Gidley has a terrible injury history. He played just five games last season due to knee and shoulder injuries, and is at long odds to stay injury-free in 2013. He's also not the dominant playmaker at the Knights, with five-eighth Jarrod Mullen doing the bulk of kicking in general play. That means he's unlikely to be a consistent scorer even if he does stay fit.

Terry Campese (Raiders half, $262,000)
Pros:
From 2008 and 2010 Campese was a Dream Team gun, running the show for the Raiders in attack, scoring and setting up tries and doing his fair share of defensive work to boot. His price has plummeted this season after two injury-wrecked seasons, and if he returns to his form of old he'll be a Dream Team bargain.
Cons: Two factors should have Dream Team coaches worried about Campese – his dubious left knee, and the rise of fellow Canberra halves Josh McCrone and Sam Williams. Campese has had his past two seasons destroyed by a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he'll be desperate not to make it three times unlucky in 2013. Meanwhile McCrone and Williams have impressed in his absence, guiding the team into the finals last season. If and when Campese does return he'll no longer be doing it all himself in attack, meaning his scores are unlikely to reach the heights of the old days.

Shaun Johnson (Warriors half, $335,800)
Pros:
An attacking freak who can dance his way through defensive lines, Johnson will also take on the role of the Warriors' chief playmaker this season after the departure of James Maloney to the Roosters. That means more points for goals and kicks in general play, meaning he could join the elite Dream Team halves this season.
Cons: While Johnson looks set to take on the goalkicking duties for the Kiwis, it remains to be seen what role his new halves partner will have in general play. If the pair split the kicking duties then Johnson's scores might not rise too much at all. As an attacking player, Johnson's DT scoring will largely depend on his team playing well, and after last season's 14th-placed finish there's no guarantee the Warriors will be a better prospect this year.  

Albert Kelly (Titans half, $156,300)
Pros:
The troubled playmaker is a big talent and could be a bargain if he grabs hold of Scott Prince's old halfback spot at the Titans. His performances for the Sharks in 2011 would have earned him 33 points a game under the current Dream Team scoring system, and if he repeats those efforts you can expect a handy price rise.
Cons: Fellow young halves Jordan Rankin and Beau Henry are also battling for the Titans No.7 jersey and could edge Kelly out. They'll also be waiting in the wings if Kelly does get first shot at the job, should injury or a form slump hit. Occasional five-eighth Greg Bird is another option if the Titans opt to add some experience in the halves alongside Aidan Sezer. Kelly's off-field record isn't great either – he was sacked by two different clubs last season and will need to lift his act if he is to stay on the park this year.

Aidan Sezer (Titans half, $292,800)
Pros:
Sezer is making a very quick transition from promising rookie to experienced half, with the five-eighth likely to become the senior halves partner at the Gold Coast this year following Scott Prince's exit. Prince's departure has also left Sezer with the goalkicking duties. Very few first-choice goalkicking halves (with no dubious injury record) come as cheap as Sezer does this season.
Cons: He's hardly a bargain at almost $300K, and the Titans aren't tipped for great things this season – meaning Sezer might not score strongly with attacking plays. Even with the boost from goal kicks, Sezer will need to take a more dominant role in the halves this year if his scores are to rise enough to justify his status as a cash cow.

There's some food for thought. Beware: not all of these guys will be Dream Team successes, and there are more potential bargains out there as well. So do your research, weigh the pros against the cons for each player, and try to snap up a few value buys before the season kicks off on March 7.

And stay tuned next week for my wrap of some well-priced Dream Team forwards.

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