A couple of weeks ago, two seemingly innocuous pieces of information found their way (via, probably, the suburban parks of the QLD Cup) into my inbox. The first: Tim Smith, former NRL Rookie of the Year (beating QLD standout Greg Inglis) had signed for the Wakefield Wildcats in the English Super League, after a relatively unfulfilled NRL career with the Eels, Broncos (having not made a first grade appearance) and the Sharks. The second: David Seage, formerly of the Newcastle Knights, recently broke the try scoring record for the Wynnum Manly Seagulls in the aforementioned QLD Cup, dotting down 78 times in 138 games for the club.
Ordinarily, these tidbits of news would have passed through to the keeper with about as much venom as a Bryce McGain leggie, had it not been for the fact that I was simultaneously tinkering with my NRL Fantasy team at the same time. With my remaining budget allowing me the same freedom to trade as Bernie Madoff, I began scouring the various benches to see if I could uncover any hidden gems, underplayed and under appreciated. My thought process was simple. Uncover a bit-part player who scores more points than a week of Linsanity, and my transformation into Fantasy don would be complete. Here’s what I uncovered:
- FULLBACK: TY WILLIAMS (Northern Pride) – Now playing in the QLD Cup, Williams would be a valuable addition for this relatively inexperienced squad, with his Origin experience sure to come in handy from the back. Sure to have lost a little pace after reversing his decision to retire in 2011, Williams would still provide able cover from the back.
- WING: KHALIFA FAI FAI LOA (Cowboys) – After signing a new two year deal with the Cowboys at the start of the year, KFFL promptly found himself behind Tupou and Winterstein in the pecking order at the Cowboys. Scoring nearly a try every two games for the Cowboys, expect to see plenty more of him in first grade.
- CENTRE: CHASE STANLEY (Dragons) – Back at the Dragons after a relatively unsuccessful stint in Melbourne, the older brother of Kyle Stanley is still only young, and has plenty of time to secure a starting centre spot, given the relative lack of depth in the centre position in the top grade.
- CENTRE: DALE COPLEY (Broncos) – Having been a victim of his own versatility by not being able to pin down a starting spot this season at either fullback, wing or centre, Copley finds himself plying his trade in the QLD Cup has he waits for vacancies in the top grade. The emergence of Jack Reed as a world class center, the fitness of Justin Hodges, and the class of Gagai, Hoffman and Yow Yeh have limited his appearances, but he surely must be happy to hear Gearard Beale moving on at year’s end.
- WING: DENAN KEMP (Dragons) – After a brilliant start in 2008 with the Broncos (named club’s rookie of the year after finishing as top tryscorer), Kemp found himself a victim of the Broncos’ ability to produce quality young players. Shipped to the Warriors, Kemp found himself again behind a production line of talented young outside backs. A stint in rugby union followed, and Kemp now finds himself staring down the barrel of forcing his way into a fullback spot occupied in recent times by Chase Stanley and Brett Morris, and possibly Brett Stewart in 2013, if rumors are to be believed.
- FIVE EIGHTH: BEAU HENRY (Titans) – After being forced out of two Wayne Bennett coached teams (Dragons / Knights), Henry found himself in a battle for the Titans No. 6 jersey with the imperssive Jordan Rankin. Having lost that battle (and being relatively light on available halves) we have decided to swoop for the capable five-eighth.
- HALFBACK: JOE WILLIAMS (Dubbo) – Whilst resisting the temptation to give Matt Orford another crack in the NRL, we have instead thrown a lifeline to a once talented halfback, who guided the Rabbitohs with some memorable performances in their shaky mid-2000 years. Whether the fitness and motivation to play in the top grade remain is questionable – this selection demonstrates just how hard it is to secure a quality halfback in this year’s competition. No wonder teams are clamoring to approach Cooper Cronk.
- PROP: EVARN TUIMAVAVE (Knights) – Proved to be something of a fantasy wizard at the start of 2011, but like the Knights, proceed to limp his way home. Has not featured in 2012 yet, and would provide some able go-forward.
- HOOKER: MASADA IOSEFA (Panthers) – Not a regular player despite making appearances from the bench in 2011, Iosefa could surely be considered a capable hooker at this level. Kicking could be an issue, though.
- PROP: SHANE SHACKLETON (Eels) – Left in the cold after suffering a season-ending injury in his first appearance for the Eels, the regulars Moi Moi and Mannah are joined by Allgood and Poore in 2012, forcing Shackleton out of the first grade picture. A solid pick up here, if he can stay healthy.
- SECOND ROW: COREY PATERSON (Cowboys) – A mid-season move from the Knights to the Cowboys raised a few eyebrows, and indeed that proved to be the case as Paterson struggled to replicate his form north of the border. Despite Scott Bolton being injured for the start of 2012, Paterson has still struggled to hold down a regular first grade position.
- SECOND ROW: DANE CARLAW (Broncos) – No, he hasn’t retired. Carlaw still plies his trade in the QLD Cup and is a contracted Broncos player, and for the experienced QLD Origin forward, there could be one final hurray for us in the NRL.
- LOCK: BEN LOWE (Rabbitohs) – Lowe found form in the no. 13 shirt while Crocker was injured, and was shifted to the second row to accommodate his captain’s return. Regular injuries followed, and a return to first grade has not. A solid performer, will bring much needed aggression to this pack.
- RESERVE: KEVIN GORDON (Titans) – Gordon, considered one of the fastest men in the NRL, showed enough promise for QLD to target him for further representative honors, despite discovering later that he was ineligible to play for them (he is, however, eligible for NSW, the Philippines, and Scotland). Valuable speed off the bench promises plenty of line breaks, even if his defense may be questionable.
- RESERVE: KURT BAPTISTE (Broncos) – Baptiste was part of a number of front row forwards finding regular game time in 2011, along with bench partner Lui, Kenny, Maguire and Anderson. Kenny has since retired, but Baptiste possibly did not do enough to maintain a regular position.
- RESERVE: DUNAMIS LUI (Broncos) – Unfortunately, a similar story of inconsistent and average performances from Lui. Will look to resurrect his career with us.
- RESERVE: LUKE CAPEWELL (Titans) – Given first crack at no. 6 for the Titans last year after Mat Rogers’ retirement, Capewell is held in high esteem by those in the know, however has failed to impress with his performances for both the Rabbitohs and the Titans. With our inexperienced starting halves combination, he is sure to see plenty of game time for us.
Let me know what you think, and please, easy on the Williams selection!