There’s no doubt that I’ll end up tinkering with this line-up in the coming hours, especially as we literally countdown the hours to the team lists being released for Round 1, but I can imagine my team structure – barring a shocking number of unexpected selections – being something like this:
Damien Cook and James Tedesco
It’s not rocket science, is it? The #1 averaging player and the #3 averaging player from last year are locked into my team from Round 1 (as they were in Round 1 last year too, to be fair). Both are legitimate captain options from Round 1, which is handy to say the least. You say it’s unlikely they back it up; well Teddy has been top 10 twice and top 15 four times (from players who have played the majority of the season) from 2015 to 2018; and Cook was also #1 in 2015 in average (albeit from only three 80 minute games – an average of 85!). I expect Cook to continue playing 80 most weeks (expect for the odd early shower) and Teddy to hit the ground running with no adjustment period required for this season.
Andrew Fifita, Angus Crichton and Jai Arrow
These three forwards will form the bedrock of my pack. I see Fifita as the likely clear-cut #1 FRF this year as he looks in the best shape he has looked for Round 1 for some time, and has been very strong in his preseason hit outs so far. Angus I see the potential to be the highest scoring 2RF this year as he should still have his great base and power stats, but I believe there will be an uptick in his attacking stats now he gets to run off Cooper Cronk. Jai Arrow also has the potential to be the #1 2RF option, but it all comes down to his health and his minutes. If he stays healthy and gets 65 minutes consistently, he will be an absolute base stat beast!
Kalyn Ponga and Michael Morgan
I wrote about Ponga in my Six in Six – Halves article and I believe I set out a fairly balanced argument for and against his selection. In the end I summarised why I felt he was a must-have from Round 1: essentially, a full season of goalkicking, one of the most SuperCoach-friendly games going around and his pure talent and ability. He also gets to play behind an improved forward pack which is always a good thing for someone in the halves. One thing I didn’t mention was that I expect him to benefit also from the Try Contribution stat, which based on the breakdown of 2018 presented by the Daily Telegraph, you’ll see that the position that benefits most from the introduction of this scoring option is the halves.
I’ve decided that Morgan is just too much value to ignore. He has demonstrated his ability to lead the Cowboys in JT’s absence, and score well SuperCoach-wise during that time, and now being handed the Captaincy as well, I am backing Morgan to lead them by example. Plus, he’s just such a likeable bloke too. I mean, as a Broncos fan to admit that I like the Captain of the Cowboys? That’s quite an achievement in itself!
There is no one in the CTW position that I consider a non-negotiable; however, it’s also obvious that any cheapie (CTW or otherwise) named for Round 1 that has some good job security is non-negotiable!
The Risky Picks
Nathan Brown and Jake Friend
I see both these guys as underpriced due to injuries last year, injuries which affected their minutes and also their on-field performances at times too. The risk for Brown lies in how the rotation will work, as well as whether he will have the match fitness to really play the 65 (or more!) minutes that I am hoping for to ensure that he is a top five 2RF candidate. The risk for Jake Friend is whether he gets 80 minutes, and if he does, that he gets to continue the form he showed in late season 2018.
Joe Ofahengaue and Cam Murray
I don’t see them as particularly risky myself, but admittedly I am gambling with the minutes / the forward pack rotation for both players in somewhat uncertain situations. Both in the same team as last year but with new coaches at the helm, and both expected to take more of a step up from improved showings last year already.
He’s shone glimpses of his ability and potential over a number of years but this is finally his first real chance to establish himself as a dependable first grader or maybe even something more. While playing fullback should allow him to base higher than most halves, his ceiling is questionable and this is where the pick could become unstuck, if he’s been told to play conservative, mistake-free footy and let the Camerons do all the playmaking, he could easily score 40-45 every week in base and not much more.
Picking him without him playing a single minute of NRL is bold, but I am backing the eye test on this one, as well as trusting the eye of the true SuperCoach, Wayne Bennett himself, who handpicked him for the England team (although Bateman had debuted for England the year before) despite some criticisms from English Super League writers who believed he should have gone with another option. He has the game to be SuperCoach-relevant, but the Raiders pack is almost unrecognisable without 120kg+ behemoths in the line-up anymore, and a logjam of fit backrowers who can play on the edge and in the middle. The minutes are unknown, how he adjusts is unknown, but I still feel like taking a punt on him anyway!
The unnamed CTWs
Of course it’s not risky if Allan and Xerri end up named for Round 1, but I am highly likely to have them in my team from Round 1 even if they aren’t named as I believe in both of their actual rugby league ability, as well as the fac that they are behind some fairly glass-like players, so an injury may be all it takes for them to get a run.
I say this with 100% confidence, I will at more than one point in this season, regret not having started with Jake Trbojevic. He is a SuperCoach stud and a shoo-in for another top #5 overall finish. I haven’t started with him since I picked him (and his brother) as a mid-ranger in 2016 – fun fact, that was the last time I did well in SuperCoach. Hmm.
I know that despite previously having Nathan Cleary as one of my locked-in, non-negotiable players for most of the preseason, I dropped Nathan Cleary from my team recently due to his slow recovery from injury rehab and the unrest at the Panthers. I stand by my reasons for doing so, but his SuperCoach prowess makes me very, very nervous.
If I had a second set of books….
I would definitely sign Tom Trbojevic – missing two rounds is killer for a Round 1 team, as well as the fact that hamstrings are a rather finicky injury (I spent the offseason dealing with hamstrung players in my NFL fantasy team) but he will 100% make me wish I had bent the rules to allow me to have the two best SuperCoach fullbacks in the game in my team.
I would also work out some TPAs to get Jamayne Isaako in my team from Round 1. He’s just too expensive for me to spend up there to start the year, but I can see him finishing as a top four CTW option this year.