The way to build a powerhouse NRL Fantasy team is simple: load up on the cash cows.
These are the cheap, undervalued players whose price tag will change rapidly during the year, allowing you to splash out on star players later in the season.
Each player in the NRL has a price tag corresponding to an average Fantasy score, based on their performances last season. The ideal cash cows are the players who are under priced by at least 10 points a game.
So, the trick is finding players priced at 20 points who will score at least 30 points a game, and so on.
Why are some players underpriced? They may have played few games last season due to injury, or they'll have larger roles at this season due to a change of club, the departure of a teammate, or a change of plans from their coach.
Maybe they're just young and are likely to have a breakout year.
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Your strategy in Fantasy should be to grab as many of these players as possible, plus a few guns who are elite scorers in their position.
Player prices change after each round based on their on-field performances, so as the season progresses you can sell some cash cows for new cheap players and use the profit to turn other cash cows into season keepers.
If things go to plan you'll finish the season with 17 superstars in your squad and will be challenging for your league title.
So who are those cash cows this season? Here are my best guesses heading into round one.
- Jump to your price bracket: Under $300k - $300k-$400k - $400k-$500k
- Pick your NRL Fantasy team now
The uber-cheapies: $228k-300k
Wests Tigers $246k WFB
The Wests Tigers snapped up this talented youngster from the Panthers this pre-season and he looks a gem based on his trial performance against Manly. But will he be first-choice fullback this season or simply Moses Mbye's back-up?
Raiders $246k WFB
Nick Cotric's exit means Simonsson has a spot on the wing sewn up for Canberra and he's just about as cheap as it gets. His Fantasy scoring so far has been nothing exceptional, averaging less than 30 points per game in the starting side, but with a break even in the high teens he only needs to score around 30 to make quality price rises.
Broncos $263k WFB
Niu will almost certainly become a dual position WFB/CTR ahead of round one with a spot in the centres lined up for Kevin Walters' side. He only played a handful of games in his rookie season – two off the bench, four at fullback – but has played centre in the Intrust Super Cup and should be capable of scoring 30 points a game and providing handy depth in your squad.
Sea Eagles $274k HLF
Promising youngster Schuster is in a battle with returning Manly veteran Kieran Foran for the five-eighth role this season, and while the senior man is likely to be the team's first-choice No.6 there could be a chance if injury strikes or if Foran spends time at dummy-half. The absence of a fit specialist hooker at the club helps Schuster's chances of game time.
NRL Fantasy halves deep dive
The bargains: $300k-$400k
Bulldogs $302k CTR/HLF
Averillo spent time in the centres, wing, five-eighth and off the bench last year but is favoured to win the Bulldogs' No.6 jersey this season. He scored 40 and 34 in his two appearances in the halves late last year, with three try assists in those matches, so a break even in the low 20s makes him very good value. An elbow injury threatens to keep him on the sidelines for round one.
Wests Tigers $304k HOK
Liddle made his NRL debut way back in 2016 but has finally got his chance to make the Tigers' No.9 jersey his own this year. Priced at 23, he scored 54 and 51 in his two starts last season and averages 44 points across the six games his played at least half an hour as a starting hooker.
The only real question mark is the presence of rival dummy-half Jake Simpkin, who is almost certain to take some minutes off Liddle from the bench and could potentially threaten his starting spot down the track. (At $228k, Simpkin could potentially be a moneymaker himself.)
Knights $304k WFB/HLF
A talented utility who scored 63 Fantasy points on debut in Newcastle's 90-minute draw with Penrith last season, Hoy will fill in for the injured Kalyn Ponga at the start of the season.
He averaged 22 points from 43 minutes a game last year – mainly off the bench – so has a good price tag but uncertainty over Ponga's return date makes him a risk.
Players generally need about six games to reach their peak price so if Ponga returns earlier than that Hoy may be bumped out of the 17 with few price rises to show for it.
Panthers $307k MID
A promising prop whose game time should improve after the departures of James Tamou and Zane Tetevano, Leniu scored better than a point a minute in his 20-minute stints last year.
He made 100 metres from 10 strong carries in Penrith's pre-season win over the Eels and could be a decent 35-point player and moneymaker even with a bench role.
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Sharks $310 WFB/HLF
The good news: Moylan, who averages 33 at five-eighth and 39 at fullback across his career, is set to fill both roles at Cronulla this season, and is priced as a 23-point player.
The bad news: he was fit for just eight matches last season and 11 the year before. He provides cover for two positions and is almost certain to rise in value if he stays injury-free, but the risk that his troublesome hamstrings cause him trouble again is high.
Raiders $310k EDG
A move to Canberra to replace the departed John Bateman had looked set to make CHN one of the bargains of 2021, but a drink-driving charge means he'll now miss the start of the season.
That has also given the chance to Hudson Young to lock down a role on the Raiders' edge, which would relegate Harawira-Naera to a bench role where he's unlikely to produce the kind of scores to generate decent price rises.
Knights $323k MID/HOK
It looks like the jack-of-all-trades Watson has finally nailed down a starting role, with the surprise being that it's not in his usual roles of five-eighth, fullback or hooker.
Instead, Watson is set to be used as a lightweight lock, where his evasive running game could be put to good use against tiring middle forwards in the fast-paced six-again era. Priced in the low 20s, if he stays fit and keeps a starting spot he can expect to score 40 points a game or better.
Wests Tigers $336k CTR
One of the quickest and most enigmatic talents in rugby league, Roberts has been a keeper-level centre in the past during his time at the Titans and Broncos but has played only 12 matches across the past three seasons due to injuries and off-field issues.
A move to the Tigers gives him another opportunity, and while he's another risky prospect his low price tag and potential upside makes him an intriguing prospect.
NRL Fantasy edge forwards deep dive
Broncos $344k EDG
If Riki is named to start in the second row on Tuesday afternoon, get him into your team. The Broncos young gun was excellent in this year's All Stars game for the Maori side and is capable of scoring well over 40 points a game with the price tag of a mid-20s scorer.
He played 80 minutes in Brisbane's final game of 2020, scoring 50 points, having scored 56 in 48 minutes (including a try) in his previous appearance.
Sea Eagles $364k EDG
Like Riki, Davey looks like a great value edge forward capable of playing the full 80 minutes, but there is more doubt over Davey's potential starting role after he came off the bench for Manly in their trial against the Wests Tigers.
He did play well in that match, and after scoring 52 and 53 in his only starts for Parramatta last year he'll be another one to snap up if he earns a starting spot in round one.
Dragons $374k CTR
The much-discussed possible move to the back row still hasn't eventuated for Bird but the former NSW Origin representative could still be a handy cash cow in the centres, where he averaged 44 points a game in 2019.
Priced in the high 20s, there's plenty of upside if he gets back to his best and stays fit – although those are two big "if's" after he played just eight games in 2018, nine in 2019 and none last year.
Broncos $390k MID
Lodge scored 51 points a game in his first year as a Bronco in 2019 but that average plummeted to 32 last year, with injuries restricting him to six appearances.
Now priced at 29, there is a lot of upside if Lodge can play 50 minutes a game – which he usually did in 2019 but only did once last year. With Joe Ofahengaue gone and fellow prop Payne Haas set to get reduced minutes this year, there should be more game time up for grabs in the middle for the likes of Lodge.
Broncos $399k WFB
Priced at 30, Isaako averaged 38 points per game at fullback last season before shifting to the bench and then the wing. The Brisbane goal-kicker could be one of the big winners if the team improves under Kevin Walters this season.
He's not the cheapest option available but Isaako could be a mid-range cash cow who could be upgraded to the likes of Kalyn Ponga or James Tedesco later in the year.
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Mid-range cash cows: $400k-$500k
Warriors $405k MID/EDG
Back in the NRL after starring in the Super League, Murdoch-Masila has been training on an edge this pre-season and could be challenging for a start in the second row. His value to Fantasy coaches will really be determined by whether he gets a starting spot or not – as a bench player he's one to avoid but a big-minute edge forward at his price tag will be very tempting if he starts.
Knights $410k HOK
Brailey was a pretty typical 40-point hooker in his time at the Sharks but is priced at 31 after injury ended his first season at Newcastle two games into the 2020 campaign. That means he's yet to play under the new six-again rules – which bumped up every hooker's scoring last year – so he looks excellent value assuming he resumes his usual 80-minute role as one of the Knights' new co-captains.
Broncos $427k HLF
Brisbane struggled badly last season and so did their star playmaker, with his Fantasy average plummeting from 55 points a game in 2019 to just 32 last year. So there's obviously plenty of room for improvement and even if he manages to score in the mid-40s he'd be a steal at his current price.
Then again, the Broncos aren't necessarily stronger on paper this year than they were last year so the risk is that Milford's form doesn't lift despite the arrival of new coach Kevin Walters.
Warriors $441 HOK
With Nathaniel Roache now at Parramatta and Karl Lawton sidelined for much of the season with an Achilles injury, Egan appears to have a mortgage on the hooker role at the club, having overcome his own elbow injury to be fit for round one.
Jazz Tevaga could still give Egan a spell at dummy-half during games, but nevetheless Egan has the chance of being a cut-price option if he can push towards playing out the entire 80 minutes.
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Roosters $446k HLF
Kyle Flanagan's replacement in the halves at the Tricolours scored 63 and 60 in his two big-minute appearances last year, but is priced as a low-30s scorer after coming off the bench in five of his seven games.
He'll take a back seat to Luke Keary but can still obviously score well enough to earn big price rises, with the one real risk being the chance promising rookie half Sam Walker takes his spot at some point during the season.
Sharks $446k HLF
The absence of Shaun Johnson in the early part of the season gives Townsend a chance to dominate kicking in general play and kick goals – both of which could push his Fantasy scoring out of the mid-30s and into the 40s.
Townsend will take on more responsibilities alongside the enigmatic Matt Moylan so should score well in that time, but once Johnson returns Townsend's scoring will likely take a dip again so there's a short window for him to cash in.