Fantasy by the Numbers: Team of the Year
Ahead of the final round of the regular season, we salute the 17 men who dominated NRL Fantasy in 2016.
The following were selected as the players who excelled in each position, with their season average and consistency across the season taken into consideration.
NRL Fantasy Team of the Season
1. Cameron Munster (Season average: 50.9): The Storm young gun again spent the season (except for Round 1) at the back for injured custodian Billy Slater, and became a must-have for many coaches on the run home, taking the spot Roger Tuivasa-Sheck occupied in 2015. Missed a chunk of the season through injury before returning in Round 19, with his incredible 99 against the Roosters in Round 14 the highlight.
2. James Tedesco (51): Despite missing the last three weeks of the season with a broken jaw, Tedesco was again Fantasy gold in 2016, incredibly consistent in the notoriously inconsistent WFB position. Started the year with an average of 63 after six games before his scoring and price tailed off slightly mid-season, making him a cut-price upgrade option.
3. Jarrod Croker (48.3): The Canberra skipper has always scored plenty of points, even when the Raiders weren't sitting pretty in the top four. With his side on the verge of a historic title tilt, Croker has been one of two outstanding CTR candidates from the nation's capital. 16 tries, 98 goals, and 2,300 run metres give you a fair indication that it's been a good year for the Raiders leader.
4. Joseph Leilua (48.7): Not to be outdone, Leilua has enjoyed his best season to date combining alongside right-edge weapons Jordan Rapana and Elliott Whitehead. With 115 tackle breaks and the ability to blow a game wide open with massive individual plays, Leilua proved to be a canny point-of-difference for those who rolled the dice on the former Knights and Roosters player.
5. Cody Walker (51): More than just a cash cow, Souths' mature-age rookie had to bide his time before cracking first grade, but showed he has plenty to offer the NRL in his debut season. Many were quick to cash out Walker after he was cut from the side in Round 7, but he returned in Round 11 and went on to be one of the best winger/fullbacks of the Fantasy season.
6. Nathan Cleary (54.2): Speaking of cash cows, Nathan Cleary quickly went from being a mid-season cash-out trade to a bona fide keeper in the halves. 49 (including 38 tackles) against the Storm on debut was just the beginning. Kick metres, goal kicking, tries, try assists… The rookie Panther can do it all.
7. Shaun Johnson (52.6): The Warriors halfback was solid in a year where other halves failed to fire, despite being plagued by a leg injury which seemed to lessen his impact across the back end of the season. Huge scores from Rounds 13 to 21 was key for many overall coaches.
8. Andrew Fifita (63.7): The third-highest averaging player in Fantasy, Fifita was at his tackle-breaking best for the Sharks with 104 for the season to date. 3,531 run metres and 620 tackles certainly helped as well. Essential up front yet again.
9. Cameron Smith (66.7): Highest average per round? Check. Highest total points (despite playing 22 games)? Check. The Fantasy legend was at his best in 2016.
10. Ryan James (60.1): Undoubtedly the surprise premium forward of the season, James cut out much of the poor discipline that plagued his game in previous years and upped his attacking output to become one of the best big men in Fantasy. 119 against the Rabbitohs in Perth will long live in the memory of James owners.
11. Bodene Thompson (57.3): Despite spending the entire season on an edge, Thompson's workrate (averaging nearly 40 tackles per game) belied his position on the field. Combined with his try-scoring ability, Thompson was the ultimate point-of-difference in the back row.
12. Simon Mannering (57.1): Spent some time on an edge covering injuries, Mannering tackled his way to another big Fantasy season. Will surpass the 1000-mark in Round 26, sitting on 998 tackles after Round 25.
13. Jack de Belin (58.8): Took a hit with reduced minutes after returning from injury in Round 14, but returned to his best on the run home. With Corey Parker's Fantasy influence waning in the twilight of his career, de Belin has stepped up to fill the void left by the Broncos workhorse.
14. Jake Friend (59.3): The Roosters skipper stood tall for his side in a tough season. Took on added attacking duties early on with Mitchell Pearce away from the side, with his 67-tackle, three-try assist, 107-point performance in Round 7 the highlight.
15. James Graham (57.8): With the reduced interchange seeing front-rowers pump out more minutes in 2016, the Bulldogs skipper's base stats were incredible, with 904 tackles and 3,924 metres (the most of any player in the NRL).
16. Trent Merrin (56.7): The Panthers recruit has spent the entire season playing big minutes at lock, with a strong back end of the season seeing his average rise well above 55.
17. Paul Gallen (56.4): Has missed large chunks of the season in past years through injury, but managed to play 17 games to date, with four tries adding to his always-impressive base stats (average of 175 metres and 30 tackles per game).