It's the second week of the finals, just four teams in action, and the inaugural Toyota NRL Dream Team Finals season is heating up.
A big congratulations to Duncan's team SevenUps, who top-scored for finals week 1 with 900 DT points, thanks to big scores from Matty Bowen, Jorge Taufua, Johnathan Thurston, Josh McCrone, Cameron Smith, Shaun Fensom and Tony Williams.
That lineup fared much better than my beloved Scouts, who were let down by Jamie Lyon's injury and relatively quiet games from Paul Gallen and Ben Barba. But with unlimited trades available, the Scouts have been overhauled for finals week 2.
This week some players to watch include Raiders halfback Sam Williams, who had a big 67-point game against the Sharks last week and comes cheap; Josh Dugan, who has taken on the goalkicking duties at Canberra in the absence of Jarrod Croker; James Segeyaro, who will start for the Cowboys this week in Aaron Payne's absence; and Taufua, who made a massive 14 tackle breaks last week.
Elsewhere, Raiders workhorse Shaun Fensom is the man most likely to score 50+, Sam Burgess is a great option up front, Tony Williams should have a big game for Manly and Daly Cherry-Evans will get a boost with goalkicking duties if Jamie Lyon is ruled out. Like last week, I say base your team on your predictions for this week's games – so if you think the Cowboys are in for a win, bring in their dynamic duo Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen.
But while I'm sure you've already had some fun tweaking your lineup for this weekend's games, I'm going to take a look towards 2013. Toyota NRL Dream Team underwent an overhaul in 2012, with some big improvements helping to make it the most-played rugby league fantasy game in Australia. The game looked better than ever, the Assistant Coach product was improved, you could connect through Twitter, and the new trades centre allowed you to make two trades at once – so dual position players became more useful than ever.
The most obvious change was the new scoring system, which was introduced to make Dream Team closer to the real game of rugby league. Where once the top Dream Team scorers were dominated solely by tackle-hungry back-rowers, the increased value of attacking stats meant backline players could now match it with the grunts up front. I remember noticing at one point early this season that the top six scoring players in NRL Dream Team played in six different positions – something that would have been unheard of under the old system.
Still, the new system isn't perfect either. The main complaint about it has been the new tackle break stat, worth three points. The tackle break revolutionised the game and made game-breaking players worth buying. But the criticism that three points is too much is a fair one – a tackle break sometimes leads to a try-scoring chance, and in those cases is a key play, but other times it simply rewards a ball-runner who bumps out of one tackle only to be wrapped up by another one.
So, next season, the tackle break should probably drop in value (to two points, say). But the range of high scorers across all positions should stay the same – so Dream Team still rewards attacking players as well as defensive ones. That means some other attacking stats will need to go up in value to balance out the tackle break drop.
Fans on Facebook and Twitter have already suggested other scoring changes for next season. Some want points awarded for fullbacks and wingers who defuse a bomb (after all, making a clean catch under pressure can be a crucial play, and players are punished with negative points if they spill a bomb). Other fans want to get rid of ineffective tackles, or make missed tackles worth -1 point instead of -2. Several punters want points for try-saving tackles, which are obviously a massive play and have been a hallmark of Ben Barba's Dally M-winning season.
Another common suggestion is the addition of points for a Man of the Match, although this one does raise a few problems. Who decides a game's Man of the Match? The television broadcasters? Radio? Dally M points would have been an easy solution, except that they go secret midway through the season.
The automatic emergency is another point of contention, with some DT coaches not happy with having their lowest-scoring reserve as their "18th man" (particularly if it's cost them a head-to-head win). The best suggestion I've heard as an alternative is for a player who is ruled out on the weekend to be replaced with the highest-scoring player in the same position from your reserves. So, if a centre in your team doesn't play, he'll get by the highest-scoring centre in your reserves. Of course, that rule would mean you'd be out of luck if one of your hookers doesn't play and the other one is already in your 17...
Another option is to have rolling lockout periods during rounds, meaning you can make substitutions (but not trades) throughout the weekend if one of your players has been ruled out.
Send any suggestions you have for improving the game next season through to me on my Facebook or Twitter pages, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll be sure to put the best suggestions through to the powers that be.
In the meantime, here's a suggested tweaking of the points for next season, downgrading the tackle break to two points and upgrading a few other attacking stats. The key thing here is to keep the general range of scores across the game pretty similar to how they were this season, meaning the coveted 100-point score for a player is possible – but still rare. At this stage I haven't added any new scoring factors like try-saving tackles or bombs defused, but I have taken out ineffective tackles.
Try = 10 (previously 8)
Goal = 2
Field goal = 5
Try assist = 6 (previously 5)
Line break = 8 (previously 4)
Line break assist = 3 (previously 2)
Tackle break = 2 (previously 3)
Tackle = 1
One-on-one tackle = 1 (extra point)
Missed tackle = -2
Ineffective tackle = nothing (previously -1)
Offload = 2
Run metres = total divided by 10
Kick metres = total divided by 20
40/20 kick = 5
Error = -2 (previously -3)
Penalty = -2
Sin-bin = -5
Send-off = -10
I've played around with this scoring system using the stats up to Round 22, and found the spread of scores is pretty similar to how the game turned out this season. The only real losers in the new system are noted tackle-break merchants like Tony Williams and Josh Mansour, and even those guys only drop a few points a game.
The top 15 scorers under this system (based on stats up to Round 22)
1. Cameron Smith - 68 points per game
2. Corey Parker - 62 ppg
3. Cooper Cronk - 61 ppg
4. Paul Gallen - 60 ppg
5. Daly Cherry-Evans - 60 ppg
6. Nathan Hindmarsh - 58 ppg
7. Shaun Fensom - 57 ppg
8. Robbie Farah - 57 ppg
9. Kevin Kingston - 56 ppg
10. Issac Luke - 56 ppg
11. Jarryd Hayne - 55 ppg
12. Todd Carney - 55 ppg
13. Josh Reynolds - 54 ppg
14. Benji Marshall - 54 ppg
15. Liam Fulton - 53 ppg
(Chad Townsend averaged 58 points a game, but only made three appearances this year so I've left him out of the list.)
What do you think? Are these changes too big, or too small? Should more scoring options be added? Should Dream Team scoring stay the same? Let me know and join in the debate on Facebook and Twitter.
And good luck with this weekend's games.