Round 1 action picks up on Saturday and Sunday. Let’s take a look at each match and who you should (and shouldn’t) target in your daily fantasy NRL contests.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Canterbury Bulldogs
The Warriors begin their post Shaun Johnson era with all kinds of questions that can only be answered by the kind of consistent football that has alluded them throughout their history. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck now acts as the lone superstar on a team that is yet to convince anyone they are anything but a flash in the pan. They come up against a Bulldogs team that are equally as unreliable and unfancied, particularly given the loss of coach Des Hasler. This game could go either way, but let’s hope for an avalanche of points.
Gun: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($12.9m)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck claims the ‘Gun’ role in this edition because of the uncertainty of this fixture and his price tag. With both teams undergoing heavy face lifts, who knows what to expect in terms of results, but what we do know is that RTS will produce points, as he has always done. Last year’s Dally M medalist led the way for a perennially inconsistent Warriors side and I expect him to do the same here. Underpriced and reliable.
Dud: Lachlan Lewis ($10.1m)
A super talented kid, but at that price tag, given the plethora of changes at Belmore and the return of the ball dominant Keiran Foran, I cannot justify the money being spent on Lachlan Lewis. An average of 680 last year is hardly setting the world on fire and in a position of real intrigue, there are just so many better options than the Dogs’ no.7. There are much better ways to spend your money.
Point of Difference: Nathaniel Roache ($9.2m)
An easy selection in this match. The absence of Isaac Luke makes this an easy choice. Nathaniel Roach looks like he was created in a test tube, with legs the size of trees and a physique unlike many in the game. He is also a very talented hooker, with a strong combination of athleticism and spark out of dummy half combined with a good football brain and effective passing game. A starting hooker at $9.2m is a no-brainer.
Wests Tigers vs. Manly Sea Eagles
The absence of mega-star Tom Trbojevic takes some sting out of this game, but we will still be treated to an open, expansive classic at Leichhardt. The Tigers open their season against a Manly side without their most dangerous weapon, and they should be able to subdue the remaining troops from their north-eastern opponents. Both sides have had interesting off-seasons, with Manly bringing back Des Hasler while the Tigers lost Ivan Cleary to Penrith, and both experiencing a number of personnel changes. The Tigers should be too strong at home but this famous ground often conjures up something special.
Gun: Esan Marsters ($12.6m)
Unfortunately only available as a forward, Esan Marsters appears the go-to Tiger for the upcoming season. A break-out year last season that saw him become a consistent and significant output of points despite scoring just three tries, Marsters has emerged as one of the best fantasy scorers in the game and against a Manly team that were utterly woeful in defence last year, he could be a winning play for your side.
Dud: Daly Cherry-Evans ($15.7m)
Without Tom Trbojevic I just cannot see anything remotely resembling value for Daly Cherry-Evans, particularly at his price tag of nearly $16 million. A hugely talented player who will come into calculations once Tommy Turbo is back, at that cost and without his greatest attacking weapon I cannot see how you can be overlooking other alternatives in the favour of the Manly halfback.
Point of Difference: Luke Garner ($6.5m)
A starting back-rower at $6.5 million? Yes please. Coach-favourite Luke Garner has snared the second row position following the long-term injury to Chris Lawrence, meaning he is severely underpriced and should be in every team. A work horse in every sense of the word, Garner should be a comfortable source of points and could prove a deadly threat in attack if he can find the right lines off halfback Luke Brooks. A must have.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
The Cowboys and Dragons are two of the more fascinating prospects this season. North Queensland move out of the Johnathan Thurston era but still with huge representative pedigree. They could be anything. The same goes for St George, a team stacked with rep stars who really should be a top 4 side come September. A string of off-field controversies will test their resolve, and fans will be pessimistic given their recent history. This should be a great litmus test for both sides.
Gun: Gareth Widdop ($10.5m)
Interestingly it took until what will be Gareth Widdop’s final season for him to play fullback but I believe the Englishman will finally get prolonged time in his best position. A natural and instinctive runner of the ball, Widdop will now have a free roam to join the attack on both sides of the field in more dangerous positions. He was already an elite level fantasy option and I believe that has only increased with his swap to the no.1 jumper. He’s a must-have for me.
Dud: Josh McGuire ($11m)
Josh McGuire made the controversial move north from the Broncos to the Cowboys, but his role in the team is still unknown. As a Queensland and Australian representative it was expected he slotted straight into the starting side, but a stacked North Queensland forward pack has seen him named on the bench. The late mail suggests he may come into the starting side but I wouldn’t go near him until we’ve got a clearer idea of how they’re going to use him.
Point of Difference: Tyson Frizell ($13.5m)
The price-makers haven’t done us a favour but with Tyson Frizell moving to lock I think he could be a huge POD for us this season. He greatly increased his fantasy scoring last year playing outside a proper halfback and not Josh McCrone, and with an increased work rate through the middle and the absence of Jack De Belin, Frizell could become an elite fantasy option. Worth the investment.
Penrith Panthers vs. Parramatta Eels
The two western Sydney rivals kick-off their seasons in a grudge match that I can only see going one way. Parramatta, for what feels like the tenth consecutive season, are in a transitional phase as they look to recover from claiming yet another wooden spoon last year. They face a Panthers team that really are in grand final or bust mode. Anything less will be a failure, and with the salary cap set to force them to squeeze out some of their young stars, they need to win now or face wasting one of the best collections of youth the NRL has seen in recent memory.
Gun: Nathan Cleary ($14.2m)
Nathan Cleary, following a year of finals footy and State of Origin, is ready to become the game’s best halfback. He has been an elite fantasy scorer over his early years in the NRL and that should only increase as this team shapes around him. It’s his year and it will be fascinating to watch him grow. The Panthers will go as far as he can take them, and you should look no further if you want a premium half.
Dud: Blake Ferguson ($14.1m)
Priced like he’s still a Rooster, Blake Ferguson will not see the same kind of open pasture he experienced in Bondi and therefore should be avoided until his price decreases. He has a wonderful work rate and a knack for finding the try line, but the Eels are just too much of a mess to contemplate spending $14 million on a winger who may struggle to get the ball. Let the price drop then re-consider. Or don’t, because Parramatta are awful.
Point of Difference: Josh Mansour ($10.6m)
Once one of the first outside backs you would pick, a series of injuries has removed Josh Mansour from the collective thinking of fantasy players but I guarantee that will change should he stay healthy. One of the best base stat collectors of any back, Mansour should see plenty of opportunities to cross the try line at the edge of a star-studded Panthers back line and with the infamous ball hog Tyrone Peachey moving to the Titans. Get him while his ownership is low and thank me later.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Canberra Raiders
We bookend the opening round with what could be the highest scoring affair of the week. The Titans and Raiders are two teams that have little interest in defending, instead preferring to win every game 36-30, and I’m not complaining. The Titans in particular will be extremely interesting to watch after bringing in a number of borderline representative players as they look to emerge from the shadows of the other Queensland sides. The Raiders have shifted Jack Wighton out of the fullback role and into the even more confusing position of five-eighth, and I think he may struggle early days. Titans should win in a fun one.
Gun: Jai Arrow ($13.7m)
Jai Arrow is set to lock himself in as one of the top 5 fantasy forwards this year, and his move to lock is all the more pleasing. A classic work horse, Arrow consistently knocks out scores over 1200 and is capable of going beyond 1500, usually without any attacking stats. Should he add a few tries and offloads to his game he will be a winning play all year.
Dud: Jack Wighton ($11m)
Much like Mark Gasnier’s move into the halves a decade ago, Jack Wighton in the no.6 role makes no sense to me. He was a relative failure at fullback because of his lack of playmaking ability, so moving him into a more pass-oriented position makes even less sense. We all seem to know his best position is in the centres except for Ricky Stuart. Wouldn’t touch with a 10ft pole.
Point of Difference: Moeaki Fotuaika ($8.3m)
Probably more of a play for the future but Moeaki Fotuaika needs to be in your plans at some stage should we see his role increase. A base stats monster who is a constant tackle bust and offload threat, Fotuaika has all the makings of a baby Jason Taumalolo. Not worth the $8.3 million investment just yet, but watch and enjoy him this weekend, and make sure you have alerts on your phone should he ever make the move into the starting side.
That’s all for Round 1. Check back next week for Round 2’s picks and analysis, but in the meantime, be sure to pick your team and play for your share of thousands in guaranteed cash.