Will Sonny Bill Williams be a Dream Team favourite or a flop after being named on the bench for his Roosters debut?
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The teams are in, the start of the season is just a day away and so is the first lockout of the 2013 NRL Dream Team, so we got together with NRL.com's Lone Scout to have a look at the notable ins and outs from all 16 Round 1 teams (and see the full team lists here).
Lone Scout started by stressing the importance of remembering that 2013 will have rolling lockouts. "With rolling lockouts in place this year you can make last-minute trades and subs for any player right up until that player's team has played their game," said Scout.
"So, for example, after the Roosters and Rabbitohs play on Thursday night, you can still trade players from the other 14 teams, on Friday. There are unlimited trades until all eight Round 1 matches lock out."
With that significant change in mind, here's a summary of our conclusions about the initial teams for 2013.
Roosters v Rabbitohs, Thursday 8.05pm AEST.
Sonny Bill Williams is back, but only on the bench. He's there alongside fellow new recruit Luke O'Donnell, bench hooker/half Daniel Mortimer and 18th man Boyd Cordner on a seven-man interchange. In the starting side, impressive youngster Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is on the wing along with cheapie Daniel Tupou, with new recruit Sam Moa getting a starting spot at prop. Mitch Aubusson is the man most likely to make way when Sonny Bill gets onto the field, while Shaun Kenny-Dowall could score some decent attacking points running off SBW.
Skipper Mick Crocker has been surprisingly put on the bench, meaning a popular Dream Team back row of Chris McQueen, Ben Te'o and Ben Lowe will start. Lowe is the cheapest of the three but may lose a lot of minutes to Crocker. Sam Burgess starts in the front row, with brother George on the bench alongside fellow prop Jeff Lima. Bench hooker Nathan Peats will take some minutes off Issac Luke. Greg Inglis is a very popular Dream Team buy at fullback or in the centres.
Broncos v Sea Eagles, Friday 8.05pm.
Corey Norman's impressive pre-season form earned him the fullback spot, with new recruit Scott Prince combining with Peter Wallace in the halves. Norman should get more running metres at the back but is likely to lose any kick metres to Prince and Wallace, who should split the kicking duties. Prince's arrival also hurts the scoring potential of Dream Team gun Corey Parker, with the new pivot becoming the new Broncos goalkicker this year. Meanwhile prop Josh McGuire will start, bumping Ben Hannant back to the bench, while Josh Hoffman and Lachlan Maranta have keep a group of promising rookies out of the wing positions.
There's value in the back row with Jamie Buhrer and Justin Horo promoted to the starting side to replace the injured Glenn Stewart (knee, round 7) and the departed Tony Williams (now at the Bulldogs). Brenton Lawrence starts at prop, but is at an awkward mid-level price and could lose his spot to Jason King when he gets back from a shoulder injury in round 2. Two dirt-cheap rookies are on the extended bench – forward Jesse Sene-Lefao and outside back Peta Hiku – but both could be bumped out if 19th man George Rose ends up making the cut.
Parramatta Eels v Warriors, Saturday 5.30pm.
Jacob Loko replaces the injured Willie Tonga (shoulder, indefinite) at centre, and both are equally cheap. Chris Sandow could get a points boost this year thanks to the goalkicking duties. New recruit Darcy Lussick starts at prop and could be a value buy, although there are cheaper starters out there. Reni Maitua, Ben Smith and Joseph Paulo start in the back row and someone will have to replace Nathan Hindmarsh's old tackle counts, but who?
Shaun Johnson is a surprise inclusion after being in serious doubt with an elbow injury and is set to take on the goalkicking duties and a bigger playmaking role after the exit of James Maloney to the Roosters. Konrad Hurrell could be a gun in the centres, and Glen Fisiiahi is at that cheap $127,700 price on the wing. Elijah Taylor replaces the injured Nathan Friend (shoulder, round 5) at hooker, and Sam Rapira is great value as a starting prop (if he can avoid injury for long enough). The presence of Dane Nielsen in the centres could make Simon Mannering more likely to stay in the forward pack this year rather than being shoved into the backline.
Bulldogs v Cowboys, Saturday 7.30pm.
Steve Turner has been named to replace Ben Barba at fullback, but cheap young gun Drury Low has been named on the wing and could still get the spot by the time kickoff arrives. How long until Barba returns to the field is anyone's guess. Front row cheapie Martin Taupau gets a start following Sam Kasiano's shin injury and James Graham's eight-week suspension. Tony Williams also starts on his Bulldogs debut and will be battling Josh Jackson to be the 80-minute man in the 'Dogs pack. Aiden Tolman's workload should go up in Graham's absence. Rookie prop David Klemmer is the fourth man on a five-man bench.
Ray Thompson has beaten Robert Lui to the halfback spot alongside Johnathan Thurston, but Lui is in jersey 19 and could be a late inclusion. English import Scott Moore gets the starting hooker spot as expected, with Rory Kostjasyn likely to get some time at dummy half off the bench. Popular Dream Team buy Tariq Sims is on the bench as he was last year, behind back-rowers Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall and Dallas Johnson.
Panthers v Raiders, Sunday 2pm
The mystery lineup of the overhauled Penrith squad has been revealed at last. Ex-Sea Eagle Dean Whare gets the fullback spot as expected, with Wes Naiqama at centre. Luke Walsh should retain the goalkicking duties. Lachlan Coote is at five-eighth where he'll get his share of kick metres, while the two most popular buys are in the back row – Nathan Smith replacing Luke Lewis at lock and dual-position former Warrior Lewis Brown starting in the second row.
Josh Dugan is out with an infection and Jarrod Croker has a knee injury but both are tipped to return next week. In the meantime Reece Robinson starts at fullback and gets the goalkicking duties, but probably only for round 1. Terry Campese is a few weeks away with his busted knee, with Josh McCrone and Sam Williams starting in the halves again. Shaun Fensom is the gun in the forward pack, albeit an expensive one. Matt McIllwrick is a cheap hooker option but Shaun Berrigan starts in the 9 and will get most of the minutes, with Glenn Buttriss also coming back soon.
Storm v Dragons, Sunday 3pm.
Buy Cameron Smith now if you haven't already. Boom youngster Tohu Harris could be a steal after getting a starting spot in the second row, although Kevin Proctor is expected back in a month. Cheap winger Mahe Fonua replaces the injured Sisa Waqa, who isn't expected back until round 8. Jesse Bromwich looks decent value as a $242,900 front-line prop, although the Storm props typically get a lot of rotation.
Alas, Steve Price didn't have a change of heart and give Josh Drinkwater a go, instead sticking with the tried and trusted Nathan Fien at halfback. At $200,900, Fien does at least offer a good option as a back-up Dream Team hooker. Mitch Rein will start at hooker for the Red V, limiting the scoring options of cheap bench dummy half Cameron King. Gerard Beale has been a popular pick in the winger/fullback position after claiming the Dragons' No.1 jersey. Trent Merrin's minutes should get a boost after the ex-NSW Origin prop was named at lock.
Sharks v Titans, 6.30pm Sunday.
New Cronulla fullback and goalkicker Michael Gordon's a very popular buy, despite a worrying injury record. The loss of the kicking duties could hurt Todd Carney's scores a little. Paul Gallen keeps the 13 jersey despite a star-studded back row, but he might spend some time on the sidelines with Chris Heighington, Anthony Tupou and Jayson Bukua on the bench. Andrew Fifita had a massive back-half of the season in 2012 and is one of several strong Dream Team options in the front row.
Albert Kelly will partner Aiden Sezer in the halves and should be very good value. Sezer will also get a boost after replacing Scott Prince as the Gold Coast's goalkicker. Brad Takairangi is a surprise inclusion at centre (he's available in the second row in Dream Team), while Jamal Idris could be in for some price rises if he improves on his poor showing last year. Hard-working hooker Matt Srama won't play the full 80 with Beau Falloon on the bench (and because John Cartwright has said Srama's workload will go down). Big-name recruit Dave Taylor will come off the bench, along with popular Dream Team option Ryan James, who impressed in the pre-season All Stars game.
Knights v Tigers, Monday 7pm
Kurt Gidley has a horror injury record but is great value as a goalkicking halfback. He may score even better early in the season thanks to injuries to hookers Danny Buderus and Matt Hilder. The newly-signed Travis Wadell starts in the 9 jersey this week with halfback Tyrone Roberts on the bench, presumably with the plan of Gidley moving to dummy half for times during the game. Waddell is unlikely to keep his spot when Buderus returns in round 3 or 4.
Young gun Jacob Miller will start alongside Benji Marshall in the halves and is very cheap, but just how much will he get to do beside the Kiwi playmaker? Rookie Jack Buchanan is the cheapest starting prop in the competition this week, but Aaron Woods is pushing for a return from injury and could still start in Buchanan's place on Monday night after being named 19th man. Bodene Thompson ($127,700) is other cheapie in the Tigers pack, coming off the bench, and is a dual position player also available in the centres.