Picking your side at the start of the season can be the most enjoyable and aggravating experience of the season. Selecting 25 players to fit within a salary cap has been taken to an art form by some, and a science by others. Whatever it is for you, it shouldn’t involve auto-pick. We don’t want to do all the work for you, so we aren’t just going to give you a side you can use, there is no fun in that. What we do want to do is use our past experience to provide some insights in how you might go about selecting a side.


Don’t go off early

You’ll probably pick your initial side in the weeks, even months, prior to the announcement of the teams for the first round. Don’t fall too in love with this side. Consider it a work in progress that will need to be fed and nurtured right up until the first lock out. Your key date will be the first team lists which come on Team List Tuesday (TLT), the Tuesday before the first round. That is the point that you’ll know what rookies and cheap players are in, whether a player might be in line for better minutes and whether an elite player has made it back from injury.


What’s the objective?

The objective of an Overall side is to start making big scores as quickly as possible. Unlike H2H, where your team should be peaking when the finals start, you want big scores as early in the season as possible. To do this, you may burn a lot of trades through the season and your team may fizzle out when late season injuries hit. But, to win, you need to start strong. This requires a careful balance between the three categories of player: cash cows, mid-rangers and guns. You can’t afford 25 guns, so compromise is the game. In an ideal world, you will recruit a team where all the cash cows and mid-rangers explode and turn into guns, but it just won’t happen. Instead, you will need to recruit cash cows that turn into mid-rangers, who can be cashed out for more cash cows, or upgraded to guns. Ideally, any mid-rangers you start with will become keepers, or even guns.


What if my cash cow isn’t named to play?

Should your 25 all be playing in Round 1? In 2015 three of the season’s best cash cows were not named in Round 1, but all were in action by Round 3. Those coaches that started the season with Coote, Bird and Taukeiaho saved three trades. That is really great for them, but if those three players hadn’t been named, those fantasy coaches would have found themselves in big trouble, so it comes with some risk. Holding out hope for a cash cow could be a better option than picking Brad Tighe, just because he is cheap. In 2015, when Coote wasn’t named in round 1, many coaches picked Nabuli or Lee instead, both known Fantasy spuds. Just picking Coote straight up would have been way more sensible than picking known poor scorers, just because they were named in round 1. In 2016 there was a wealth of cheap options named in Round 1 and not a lot of high pedigree rookies that missed the TLT naming so this was less of an issue. It should be case by case, but unless there are very compelling reasons I think people should select a 25 who play in Round 1.


How do I pick the value players?

Most players are priced on their average from the previous year, the exceptions being rookies who are minimum priced and players who have played in the NRL or Super League before, who are priced based on some sort of magical alchemy. If a player is expensive, he was good last year; if he is cheap, he was crap last year. Building a fantasy team is all about value and finding players who are valued less than their output will be. Other than your core guns, every other player should be picked because there is a credible reason to believe they can achieve a return greater than their starting price; if you are getting someone for any other reason, you are doing it wrong. Thankfully we have some of the players we believe to be undervalued later on in the prospectus. That brings us nicely to the next point….


Should I save money on mid-range players?

Don’t fall into the mid-range trap. Remembering that players are priced for a reason, you should only chase mid-range talent when there are compelling reasons to believe that talent will produce results better than their price. Those compelling reasons should not include “he’s been training the house down in pre-season” or “he set the club record in the dead lift”. Actual compelling reasons are; increased minutes, improved role, or prior year’s average impacted by random low scores.


This superstar seems to be too cheap?

Don’t get a player on name recognition. Kieran Foran is (Editor’s note: Was?) one of the best players in the NRL. He is also an incredibly mediocre fantasy player and he always has been. His game isn’t built on making lots of kicks, making lots of tackles, or getting his hands on the ball regularly. Don’t expect that to change. Likewise, Darren Lockyer, possibly future immortal (Joel Huey is sure it’ll happen if he keeps saying it), was very average in Fantasy. Players can be good on the field and not in your fantasy team, don’t presume just because you’ve found a superstar priced cheaply that he’s a good fantasy buy. In a related sense, remember that many NRL guns have lesser-rated brothers, who are not guns. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are buying Andrew Fifita at a bargain price, because you have probably just bought the 20 minute per game brother, David.


Where should I spend the money?

Try not to stack a position. Some people like to balance their positions with a gun in every spot, but that isn’t a rule to live and die by. Sometimes all the cheap value can be at a certain position, so you may as well exploit it. This was exactly the case at HLF last year where there was a plethora of cheap players. Stacking a position could be troublesome because it can remove the flexibility of grabbing a big time cash cow and early in the season this can be a frustrating impediment.


Should I just pick my team and fill the rest with $138k players?

Be realistic on cash cows and cheap players. Don’t pick the best 17 players you can and fill the side out with rookies. Come TLT, you’ll just have to blow it up to find players playing, so try to be a bit more realistic about which cash cows and cheap players are a strong chance to be on the field Round 1. Sometimes there are lots, and sometimes there aren’t. 2016 was a season with lots and that made it fairly easy, 2017 won’t necessarily be the same.


Who should be the captain?

Pick a player you can captain. Your captain’s score is doubled, so it is important to have a reliably big scorer you can stick the C on every week. Playing captaincy roulette is a good way to court disaster.


What if I have money left over?

Should you spend your entire salary cap? Some people like to spend every cent, while others like to leave some in reserve just in case they need funds for an early trade. I like to find the best team I can and go with that regardless of whether I have no or a little money left. Just don’t leave too much money left over, as money in the bank doesn’t earn interest.


When do I consider the byes?

Don’t spend too much time planning for byes prior to the season. You want to know who has byes and when and perhaps it might help you pick one player over another, but there is such a long time until byes that you can do your team irreparable harm early in the season if you poorly plan.


What about H2H?

H2H is difficult to give advice for, as your strategy really depends on how good the coaches are in your league. If there are enough noobs in your league (you know, the guy from accounting who follows AFL and is in the league to make up numbers) your position in the top 8 will be assured. In that case, go for lots of cash cows so you have plenty of cash come finals. If it’s a gun league, expect the competition to be tight and making the 8 a difficult proposition. In that case, you may want to start with a more balanced team, such as one aimed to win Overall.