A Fantasy Football Guide from a Fantasy Football Champion

Filed in Other by on December 6, 2010

It was a day that will live in the annals of fantasy rugby league history. The Geurie Greens, run like the German transit system by your most-competitive author, were well behind. It was Grand Final weekend, the second annual FFL decider, and the loathed Yenda Yuans seemed to have a premiership winning edge with only the Sunday games to be played. The devastation would be total, the brutality severe. And the shame, oh, the shame. Defeat was unacceptable yet appeared inevitable, written in the stars, a punishment for breach of Dogma, the guilt of sinful deeds burned in my eyes. It was a classic battle of good and evil, the beloved wise warrior against the grubby sodomite intent on carnage and darkness and terror. The sky hung grey and all seemed lost. And then it happened. Four hours of bliss, a reward for providence and intelligence, knowledge and understanding. Geurie outside backs Sam Perrett and Michael Jennings both scored hat-tricks and the Geurie Greens basked in the triumph of glory and soaked in the golden reflection of the mounted FFL Cup. Good had prevailed. “With a winning smile, the poor boy, with naivety, succeeds, at the final moment, I cried, I always cry at endings.”

That day was six months ago. To some, the period has been marked by snotty one-liners and the Obnoxious Arrogance of The Champion. To others, the nightmares have been terrifying and the valium not nearly strong enough. The pressure has been so strong that one ginger haired team owner, in the midst of a three-day bender, found it necessary to remove much of his clothing while busting moves at a discothèque renowned for its rather liberal views on love and marriage and West Coast Coolers.

The time, however, has arrived for redemption. Those who danced with failure in 2007, dream of anything but the shameful humiliation of defeat in 2008. The NRL is but days away and the talk of most rugby league fans is fantasy teams. Fantasy sports are taking off like an ice addict on a mission in these parts and it is wise to get on now while the waters are, for the most part, free. The money is good, the glory is better and the benefits to one’s gambling are highly positive (the sighting of tackle head-to-head markets tends to cause great excitement for fantasy players). For rugby league fans, the hour is now.

The road to glory, however, is well hidden and most will never find it. A guide is required, someone who has traversed the golden path, a man who has ridden the rainbow and landed in the leprechaun’s pot. Your venerable wordsmith is one such man. And the following words should be well adhered too when drafting or selecting your team.

It must always be remembered that the top half of your squad is where it can all be lost and the bottom half of your squad is where it is all won. The key with your first ten selections is to be conservative. Those who attempt heroism are usually whipped sooner rather than later. The key is to find the core of your team in the first half of the draft. Two or three props who play significant minutes, a couple of back-rowers who tackle all day, a top class hooker (and in fantasy terms, there are only four), a hard running fullback, two certain-starting halves who can both score and lay on tries and one elite centre. It is preferable to have a goal kicker in that lot. These will be your big scoring players and it is well advised to stick with those who have performed in the past and are established starters. For every Israel Folau selected before a first grade debut, there are twenty busts who struggle to make the grade. It is also best to avoid being overwhelmed by panic. If you are in a league with a draft that ensures each player may only play for one team, you will be far more successful if you establish a competitive advantage in one particular area than getting caught up in trends. If the first five picks in the draft are halfbacks, suck it up and realise that you are probably going to be somewhat weak in the halves. Don’t take the sixth best number seven. Take the best prop or the best hooker. Those who don’t are usually eating chaff come The Big Dance.

And now, some more sound advice and counsel to follow. Be wary of selecting players from teams whose coaches are renowned for team changes. Brian Smith, I am looking squarely at you. Avoid injury prone players. One particular columnist at Punting Ace, and we will let names slide for the meantime, has held onto Shane Rodney for two seasons and watched him play only four games. Avoid taking too many players from the one team. You are capping your score if you load up on players from one team and Origin time will cause all kinds of carnage and angst. Forwards are far more valuable than backs in fantasy terms when the league consists of anything more than just tries and conversions. Those who play in the pack also tend to be more consistent in their scoring, making a good forward more valuable than an outstanding back. Do your research and make sure the players you select are alive, likely to play and not liable to be shot in The Cross in the early hours of Monday morning.

Heeding the advice of Bill Simmons is also wise. Get those in your league hammered the night before the draft, have a well-stocked porn collection on hand come the draft, relive past glories, highlight every other manager’s inadequacies and personal flaws, play pointless head games and attempt to look as prepared as possible. This should knock out most of the opposition.

Below, directly, is a productive analysis of each position and who should be taken and who should be avoided.

Fullbacks: There are five elite fullbacks and you are well advised to ensure you have one. Brett Stewart, with his penchant for tryscoring and his amazing return statistics, is the dominant fullback. Karmichael Hunt, Matt Bowen, Billy Slater and Kurt Gidley are also excellent selections. Anthony Minichiello is best avoided after two injury-ravaged seasons while only a fool would take Preston Campbell or Ben Hornby, whose numbers are not half that of the elite five. Some value fullbacks who may be obtained cheap are Raiders flyer William Zillman and Fetuli Talanoa of Souths.

Three-Quarters: Justin Hodges is the number one fantasy three-quarter and by some way. Never let him go. He is gold. He scores plenty of tries, always chews up a lot of yardage (159.6 metres per game in 2007) and is one of the best at busting the line. Dragons duo Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier sit on the level below Hodges with, surprisingly enough, the Warriors Jerome Ropati. Young players Michael Jennings, Chris Lawrence, Israel Folau, Jarryd Hayne and Krisnan Inu are all outstanding selections. Lesser known types Brett Delaney, Colin Best, Steve Turner, Joel Monaghan and Ashley Graham can prove good value as they can be scored on the low coin or in the late rounds of any draft. It is probably wise to avoid older outside backs as they tend to be less effective with each passing year. Unless a top class three-quarter can be picked up, you are better off scoring elsewhere early on.

Halves: The best halfback available this season is Craig Wing and the best five-eighth is Greg Inglis. Todd Carney is the best swingman, capable of playing in both the six and seven. Try assists is the key statistic for halves and all three can put their outside men over. Adding to their value is an ability to cross the line themselves. Johnathan Thurston is obviously a wonderful halfback and his goalkicking is a bonus but he is out for the first six weeks and may be better off being passed-in in all non-keeper leagues. Cooper Cronk and John Morris are the other two halfbacks to be considered early while Jamie Soward and Jarrod Sammut can prove value pick-ups in the latter rounds. Greg Bird would be a brilliant choice at number six but may only be available in the backrow. Aside, the five-eighth ranks are extremely thin with a young player like Maurice Blair or Ben Rogers taken late in the draft the most advisable route. Avoid Tim Smith, Darren Lockyer, Brett Finch, Benji Marshall and Luke Walsh like you would avoid a crazed bull as they are all over-valued.

Hookers: Cameron Smith is in the three best fantasy league players and should be the first choice hooker of everybody. His work-rate is immense, he is not part of a two-hooker tandem, he lays on tries and he kicks goals. He has it all and should probably be the first player to go in any draft. Robbie Farah, Danny Buderus and Lincoln Withers are the other quality fantasy hookers with a big drop-off to the pack. Expect Manly’s Matt Ballin, with an increased role now that Michael Monaghan has moved on, to join this elite level if Des Hasler gives him eighty minutes each week. Michael Sullivan and Isaac Luke may prove good value latter round pick-ups. Simon Woolford and Michael Ennis are the worst value among the established rakes.

Props: Steven Price is the best fantasy prop in the NRL and with Cameron Smith and Justin Hodges, is probably the most valuable acquisition you can make. His numbers are simply outstanding. He makes nearly 200 metres a game while still making a touch over 25 tackles. Luke Bailey, Petero Civoniceva, Nathan Cayless and Roy Asotasi are also elite players in both real and fantasy terms. When selecting a prop, the key is to find someone who will play most of the game and will be the go-too front rower for that team. The five front-rowers mentioned are all captains or senior players and it is well worth looking out for these types. While players like Fuifui Moi Moi can be highly effective when on the field, he only plays half a game. That is okay for your bench prop but not for your starters. Luke Douglas, Ben Hannant, Ray Cashmere, Shane Tronc and Justin Poore are lesser-lights who are very good fantasy types.

Backrowers: There are nearly a dozen top class backrowers with another twenty plus more who are more than capable. The best, without question, is Nathan Hindmarsh. He has an unmatched work ethic in the NRL and he rarely lets anybody down. Bulldogs duo Sonny Bill Williams and Andrew Ryan, Cronulla Bash Brothers Greg Bird and Paul Gallen, accused recidivist Anthony Laffranchi, Manly pair Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart and Roosters skipper Craig Fitzgibbon are the remainder of the elite backrow selections. Then there is Hoffman, Mason, Tongue, Creagh, Stagg, Simpson, Waterhouse and Dallas Johnson who are all wonderful players to have in your side. Those who will prove value are Michael Luck, Chris Heighington, Reece Williams, Mark Minichiello and Luke Stuart. When selecting backrowers, be aware that there is a great deal of depth and while it is beneficial to get a star, it is wiser to look to other positions first. With thirty-odd top-class backrowers, there will be plenty to choose from.

There is plenty to be achieved in fantasy rugby league. There is cash to be won, glory to revel in and knowledge to be obtained. It is also a fine opportunity to severe friendships, create an atmosphere of domestic angst, nearly get fired and analyse and enjoy each game in minute detail. It is all-encompassing people. And the ride is well and truly worth it.

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