Cameron Smith or Jason Taumalolo? Shaun Johnson or Nathan Cleary? Andrew Fifita or Sam Burgess?
These are the tough questions you face as an NRL Fantasy coach.
At its core, the idea behind NRL Fantasy is simple. Pick a squad of current NRL players, and if they perform on the field your team wins in Fantasy. Players receive points for various stats during a game – one point for a tackle, eight points for a try, etc – and if your team scores more than your opponent's during a round, you win.
Take on your buddies in a 16-team league – complete with finals series – and play for prizes along the way. It's the most addictive way to follow the footy and will make you a more knowledgeable fan, and it's free to play.
So how do I get started?
Create a new NRL Account now, and then sign up to NRL Fantasy when the game opens in January.
The first hurdle you face is fitting a 21-man squad under the new $9.4 million salary cap. Player prices have risen from last year to match the increased cap so the game's best players won't come cheap.
So which players should you pick?
The most obvious starting point is to pick players who will be playing as many minutes as possible. Most cheap players in Fantasy are cheap for a reason – they may be bench specialists or fringe players – so try to snap up the bargains who are likely to play decent minutes next season, either because they've switched clubs or are likely to be promoted to the starting line-up. (Don't worry if you're stuck here, I'll have Fantasy guides about all 16 clubs to help you out, plus more tips on NRL.com right up until the start of the season.)
The other thing to consider is that not all good NRL players are good Fantasy players. NRL Fantasy's scoring system (see the full list at the end of this article) rewards players who make a lot of tackles, or a lot of run metres, or are dominant ball-runners, but they don't reward hard-to-measure things like good defensive reads or positional play. So think busy defenders like Cameron Smith and Jack de Belin, dominant playmakers like Mitchell Pearce or Shaun Johnson, and tackle-busting ball-runners like James Tedesco and Jason Taumalolo.
Try not to be overawed by all the factors in the scoring system: if you focus on the four key stats –tackles, run metres, kick metres and tackle breaks – you should have a decent idea on which players tend to excel in Fantasy.
A handy option is to use the game's intelligent auto pick feature to get your initial 21. Add the players you definitely want in your squad, then auto pick the rest. From there you can make adjustments to the squad as you like.
There's no restriction on how many players from a single NRL club can be in your Fantasy side, so feel free to load up on players from your favourite team if you like – just beware that loyalty doesn't get you any points in Fantasy.
Do I need to be a footy expert to play?
No! Obviously watching the footy over the weekend doesn't hurt, but there are a lot of ways to keep up to date with the latest NRL Fantasy-relevant info. Keep an eye on the injury and team list news on NRL.com, read my Scout Report articles throughout the season, and check out NRL.com's Fantasy videos and podcasts. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for Fantasy news during the season as well.
The game doesn't open until early next year but until then you can take a sneak peak at player prices for each club here. Then when the game opens up create a team and get a bunch of pals together to form a head-to-head league. There will be an awesome prize of a rugby league VIP experience for two for one lucky Fantasy player who creates a league of 16 or more.
NRL Fantasy scoring system
Try: 8 points
Try assist: 5 points
Line break: 4 points
Line-break assist: 2 points
Tackle break: 3 points
Forced drop-out: 2 points
Goal: 2 points
Offload: 2 points
Tackle: 1 point
Kick defused: 1 point
Run metres: 1 point for every 10 metres
Kick metres: 1 point for every 20 metres
Field goal: 5 points
Try save: 5 points
40/20 kick: 4 points
Missed tackle: -2 points
Error: -2 points
Penalty conceded: -2 points
Sin bin: -5 points
Send-off: -10 points