Are you ready for the first week of the NRL Fantasy season? Before the arrival of the all-important Round 1 team lists, the Lone Scout has a few pointers to check before you lock in a squad.
1) The captain
In one sense, there are a million ways to build an NRL Fantasy team. But in another, more accurate sense, if you don't have Cameron Smith, Robbie Farah or Corey Parker in your team then you're doing it wrong.
It goes without saying that the captain should be the first man picked in your Fantasy squad. Your nominated captain is awarded double points each week, so he is quite literally twice as important as any other player in your squad. There's plenty of spending room with the $6.2 million salary cap this year, so there's no excuse for not having Smith, Farah or Parker (or at least someone like Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen or Daly Cherry-Evans) in your team with the 'c' next to their name.
2) The cash cows
Your starting Fantasy squad should be built with two goals in mind: score points, and make money. The first goal is simple enough, but the second is what separates the good Fantasy teams from the great ones. Get the right money-making players in your team early on, and you could have the Kangaroos as your starting side by the end of the season.
All players are valued based on last year's performance at the start of the season, with players who took little or no part in the NRL in 2013 getting a price discount, and rookies starting at a very low $107,000 price. Prices will start moving after Round 1 to reflect a player's on-field performances, so undervalued players are worth their weight in gold in Fantasy. Get as many of these guys into your team as possible – but make sure they are named to play when next week's Round 1 team lists come in. (For a head start on some of this year's most promising cash cows, check out my cash cow guide.)
3) The keepers
One simple rule to keep in mind when recruiting players to your squad is this: get keepers and cash cows. That's it. If a player is not going to rise in value or be among the best scorers in his position, he doesn't deserve a place in your Fantasy squad.
It may sound harsh, but if a player was solid last season, will be solid again this season, and has a mid-range price tag, then don't buy him. He doesn't fit the bill as either a genuine gun or a money-maker. Remember your goal should be to assemble the ultimate team by the time your league finals come around, so only buy players who will take you closer to that goal.
4) The DPPs
I've already written about the benefits of packing your team with dual position players this season. Not only do they give you a little more flexibility when building a squad now, but they will also save you trades during the season. If you can't make your mind up between two similar players, opt for the one who is available in two positions – it could help you avoid a headache down the track.
5) Change your squad 30 or 40 times
As all long-time Fantasy coaches know, a crucial element of the pre-season is overhauling your Fantasy team as often as possible, all in the knowledge that you'll just change your team again once the Round 1 team lists come out. It doesn't really help, but it always feels like progress.
6) Go with your gut
This is a crucial element of NRL Fantasy that often gets overlooked – if you have a hunch about a player, then go with it. Going along with the crowd and buying the popular players is fine, but nothing hurts more in Fantasy than watching a player you wanted to buy post a massive score when he's not in your team. And nothing feels better in Fantasy than seeing a hunch pay off.
Don't get someone else to pick your team for you. Don't buy a player just because someone like me tells you to. Do your research, read up on the pre-season, watch some games, and then pick the team that you think will win. This is your chance to pick your ultimate NRL team, so take it.