The 2009 Fantasy NRL Guide: Words of Wisdom and the Roadmap to Riches

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

There is no more exciting time of year. Not Christmas. Not Melbourne Cup day. Rugby league is only weeks away and opening night cannot come quick enough.

With the footy season so close, it is time for the annual ritual of selecting your fantasy team. It is a critical time of year, one that will shape personal happiness and sleep patterns until September. Fuck ups in the next few weeks will lead to severe angst over the coming months. Competitions can be won and lost before a ball has even been kicked.

The Geurie Greens, my uber-succesful fantasy team, will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2008 which finished with a loss in week two of the finals after a fifth-placed finish in the minor premiership. Injuries to stars Steve Price, Luke Bailey and Craig Wing as well as the deregistration of Todd Carney did the Greens no favours but some poor pre-season decisions didn’t help either. I must now live with the fact I traded Kurt Gidley for Matt Ballin. I have to deal with the fact I drafted David Kidwell and Luke Rooney early in the draft. I have to accept that Mo Blair once played for my team.

That is all very heavy and led to a depressing 2008.

The score will change in 2009, however, with a month of research, number-crunching and telephone calls. The wheels are in motion and they are on course for glory.

Follow this advice and you will be mixing it up at the business end of the season.

Fullbacks: There are three sure-fire selections at fullback with Kurt Gidley, Billy Slater and Brett Stewart. All pick up strong metres, make few errors and score tries. The trio are among the top fifteen fantasy players. Gidley gets the nod as the number one fullback slightly ahead of Slater due to his goal-kicking and multi-faceted role in the Newcastle attack. Gidley averaged 178.2 metres per match last season, 48 more than Slater and 56.2 more than Stewart. He will again be outstanding in 2009.

On the next level are Wade Mackinnon and Karmichael Hunt. Mackinnon spent most of 2008 on the sideline while Hunt was a little disappointing, causing him to drop out of the elite category. Mackinnon is an outstanding ball-returner and looms as a constant threat in attack while Hunt is always involved and is probably the safest custodian in the game.

The best value fullback heading into 2009 is the Raiders David Milne, though those entering a salary cap league rather than a draft league will find his initial price is probably about right. Milne has the number one jersey sewn up after a productive 2008 that saw him score 12 tries and average a touch under 140 metres. He has no name value and in a high octane attack that relies heavily on an explosive fullback can be a steal later in the draft . Brett Morris of the Dragons is another number one that can be taken later in the draft and has only a mid-range price attached in salary cap leagues.

Fullbacks to avoid include Anthony Minichiello, Luke Patten and Matt Bowen. All three are coming off injury-ruined seasons and despite the fact the triumvirate are all very good players at their best, none showed much in 2008. Minichiello is the biggest risk with a further back injury likely to lead to an early retirement. There is little to be gained by wasting a high pick/high salary cap number on any of the three.

Luke Burt is the worst of the certain-starting fullbacks, marginally ahead of Preston Campbell.

Three-Quarters: The Brisbane centre pairing of Israel Folau and Justin Hodges are the two standout three-quarters for fantasy owners. Folau has put up huge numbers in his first two seasons and will not go backwards this year where he will be a feature of the Brisbane attack while Hodges has always put up super fantasy numbers. Michael Jennings is an outstanding centre with speed to burn who could join that elite level this season and is good value at a touch over $200,000 in salary cap leagues. Joel Monaghan is a renowned tryscorer whose improved defence makes him an outstanding fantasy centre. Colin Best had fantastic numbers last year and though his move to Souths is likely to impact negatively, he is should still be a very good fantasy buy. Defensive centres Matt Cooper and Willie Tonga are both top class fantasy players. Manu Vatuvei is the best of the wingers with his explosive running leading to plenty of fantasy points.

Some exciting prospects that are worth a risk this season are Bulldogs centre Jamal Idris, new Dogs recruit Josh Morris, Warriors recruit Denan Kemp, Knights centre Junior Sau, Manly purchase Tony Williams, Storm three-quarter Joseph Tomane and Raiders winger Justin Carney.

The three-quarter line is the best position to take a risk on up-and-coming prospects as coaches are much more prepared to give young outside backs a run than they are young halves or props. When drafting, keep this at the forefront of your mind.

Outside backs to steer clear of are Joel Reddy, Adam MacDougall, John Williams and Jamie Simpson. All four cost over $200,000 in the Daily Telegraph’s Supercoach league despite the fact all four have significant black marks next to their name. Joel Reddy is no certainty to play first grade this season with Ben Smith returning. Adam MacDougall is aging and constantly injured. Williams and Simpson are both doubtful first grade starters in the early rounds due to the stacked three-quarter lines of North Queensland and Souths.

Five-Eighths: There are virtually no five-eighths in rugby league anymore and that trend is only going to continue in 2009 with Braith Anasta forecast to play lock this year. Three of the top four five-eighths of last season, in terms of fantasy value, are all set to play in the backrow this year with Anasta, Feleti Mateo and John Sutton all likely to wear the thirteen in 2009. All are viable options if your league allows you to play them in the six jersey.

This leaves genuine three five-eighths sitting above all others: Greg Inglis, Terry Campese and Craig Wing. Inglis has been an outstanding fantasy player throughout his entire career and the possibility he will spend some time in the centres this season should only see those numbers increase. Campese became an elite number six last season when he took control of the Raiders after the demise of Todd Carney and has the added benefit of his goal-kicking. Craig Wing is a hardworker who can break a line. All three are top selections.

Other good five-eighths include Jamie Lyon, Jamie Soward and Jarrod Mullen. All three had over 14 try assists and 5 tries in 2008 along with averaging over 16 tackles a piece. Jamie Soward’s goal-kicking pushes him marginally ahead of Lyon and Mullen. Mullen can be picked up fairly cheap in salary cap leagues and looks the best value.

Darren Lockyer is the one sure-starting number six to avoid. No player has a greater gap between his actual ability and fantasy value. He is a total liability in any fantasy team, particularly with his disposition to injury these days. Only take him if you are a sado-masochist with a taste for the pain of failure.

Michael Witt is the most overpriced five-eighth in salary cap leagues. He is going for a touch over $240,000 and won’t play first grade this season. Ivan Cleary has publicly slammed Witt and with great depth in the Warriors halves this year, Witt will be playing a lot of lower grade football.

Halfbacks: The top end of the 2009 halfback class is fairly even this season with six or seven players more than capable of putting up a good score for your team. Johnathan Thurston is probably the top selection. Back after an injury-hampered 2008 and with a new coach who values attacking initiative, Thurston should post some big numbers this year, particularly with his goal-kicking thrown in and his backline improved by the return of Matt Bowen and the signing of Willie Tonga.

Cooper Cronk, Luke Lewis, Scott Prince and Brett Finch sit on the next level along with Jarrod Mullen and Jamie Soward, both who were discussed as five-eighths but may wear the seven jersey for their respective sides this year. Cronk led the NRL in try assists last season while Prince would have gone close had he have played the entire season. Luke Lewis has adjusted well to the seven jersey and tends to have a higher median score due to his workrate while Finch improved significantly last season and will be the sole director of the Eels attack this year.

Returning stars Trent Barrett and Stacey Jones never offered much fantasy value before they headed overseas and that is unlikely to change now considering their age. The halfback duel at Newcastle also makes selecting either Luke Walsh or Scott Dureau unwise. Matthew Head, Peter Wallace and Mitchell Pearce are all players whose actually ability far outstrips their fantasy value.

The Raiders Marc Herbert can be picked up late or on the cheap and may prove a good pick-up, particularly if the Raiders remain the best attacking team in the NRL.

Backrowers: There is more depth in the backrow than in any other position with six top-fifteen rated players and a further twenty who would place in the top-fifty fantasy players in the NRL.

The two best fantasy players last season were Anthony Laffranchi and Feleti Mateo. Laffranchi was amazingly versatile, making 35 tackles and 121 metres while scoring 12 tries. Mateo was a revelation, making metres and tackles while topping his score up with a smorgasbord of offloads and tackle breaks. Both are top five picks in all drafts and any decent dream team will have at least one of them.

John Sutton, Paul Gallen, Glenn Stewart and the underrated Chris Heighington round out the pantheon of elite backrowers. Sutton was the offload king of the NRL. Gallen is a real metre-eater who averages over 155 metres per match. Stewart ranked second in the NRL in tackle breaks. Heighington puts up numbers in every category.

Then there is warhorses Nathan Hindmarsh and Craig Fitzgibbon, the volatile Anthony Watmough, Trent Waterhouse, Mark Minichiello, Corey Parker, Luke Stuart, Braith Anasta, Ben Creagh, David Stagg, Andrew Ryan, Willie Mason, Anthony Tupou, Dallas Johnson, Michael Luck and Frank Pritchard. All are fantasy starters. Those in a salary cap league can look for some cheap buys in the backrow as there is plenty of quality among the cheaper players.

An important thing to note with backrowers: beware of selecting players from clubs overburdened with backrowers of roughly the same quality. They can steal each other’s minutes and minutes for backrowers are crucial as there is a huge disparity between some backrowers who play near eighty and others who can play around the thirty mark. Cronulla is one such club with Gallen, Tupou, Reni Maitua, Reece Williams and Fraser Anderson. Canberra is another.

Props: Age is no barrier with prop forwards with the best bookends in the game usually a touch older. The premier props and the best fantasy props tend to be one in the same. Steve Price, Petero Civoniceva, Roy Asotasi, Nathan Cayless, Luke Bailey and Brent Kite rate as probably the six best props in the NRL at present and they all put up big fantasy numbers. Steve Price and Luke Bailey will improve after being sidelined for much of 2008 with injury while Asotasi and Cayless should both bounce back from what they would consider disappointing.

Of the younger brigade, Ben Hannant and Luke Douglas are the two best. Both play big minutes for a prop and both go very hard in defence, an absolute key in fantasy as many props (see Carl Webb, Joel Clinton and Fuifui Moimoi) only play one-side of the ball.

Unheralded props who can add depth to a squad and even start as the second prop include Justin Poore, Shane Tronc, Michael Henderson, Troy Thompson, Kane Cleal and Jesse Royal. This lot get few of the kudos they deserve but put up good, solid numbers every week.

Props to avoid include the always-soft Joel Clinton, the lumbering Dane Tilse (who will be hurt by the arrival of David Shillington), the outright lazy Antonio Kaufusi and Ben Cross, who, while decent, is constantly injured and plays few minutes.

Hookers: Cameron Smith is the man and remains among the top-three fantasy players in the league and would have claims to being hoisted to the mantle of number one. Last season he averaged 37 tackles and 68 metres per game, scoring 4 tries and kicking 77 goals as well as breaking 60 tackles and setting up 10 tries. They are sensational numbers and he has the added bonus of being one of the few eighty minute hookers in the competition.

Robbie Farah sits alone on the next level. His numbers are sensational as well. He plays eighty minutes and is an integral member of the Tigers attack. Combined with a large work ethic, he is a super fantasy pick-up.

There is a big drop off after that with Nathan Friend, Ian Henderson, Isaac Luke and new Broncos recruit Aaron Gorrell the next best. Friend’s numbers are consistently good due to his tackling with Ian Henderson much the same. Luke is an attacking threat who makes plenty happen out of dummy half though there is some concern that he may be playing NSW Cup after a falling out with Jason Taylor. Gorrell was excellent for the Dragons in 2006 and should have a big impact for the Broncos this season.

Players to ignore include P.J Marsh, Luke Priddis and nearly every second-stringer in a hooking platoon including Michael Sullivan, Heath L’estrange and Riley Brown. The hooker platoon kills you but it is worse if you are stuck with the bench player who gets on for no longer than 25 minutes.

And that is it. You have been led to the water. Now all you have to do is drink.

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