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Love the footy? The best free way to get more out of the game is by playing NRL Fantasy.

Pick your own squad of NRL players from a $7 million salary cap, and when your players perform on the field, your team will be rewarded in Fantasy.

The game is set to open for 2017 tonight (February 1) so it's time to get up to scratch with how it works.

There are three ways to play Fantasy. First up is Classic, where you pick a 25-man squad, make trades during the season, grow your team value, take on your mates in head-to-head leagues and vie for the big prizes at the end of the season. 

Then there's Match Day – smaller mini-games where you pick just six players involved in an individual match (like the mid-year Test or State of Origin) and compete for prizes and bragging rights. It's the quickest and easiest way to get into NRL Fantasy.

Finally there's Draft, where you get a league of mates together and run a live draft where each NRL player can belong to only one team. One team gets Johnathan Thurston, one team gets Jarryd Hayne, etc. You can customise your league to run however you like, and trade players with other teams in your league throughout the season.

Bulldogs 2017 NRL Fantasy Guide!

For all three games, the point scoring works basically the same. NRL players are awarded points for a variety of in-game statistics. You get one point for a tackle, but lose two for a missed tackle. You get a point for every 10 run metres your player makes, and a point for every 20 kick metres. You get further points for tries (8), try assists (5), line breaks (4), tackle breaks (3), line-break assists (2), offloads (2), goals (2), try saves (5) and field goals (5), while you lose points for penalties conceded (-2) or errors (-2).

That scoring system favours some types of player of others. For forwards, those who make a lot of tackles and run metres are generally more prolific scorers. Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith – a busy defender who also creates attacking opportunities for teammates and kicks goals – is the best Fantasy scorer in the game.

For outside backs, you want players who score tries and make a lot of run metres and tackle breaks (think James Tedesco and Joey Leilua), while for halves you want guys who do the bulk of their team's kicking in general play, are decent defenders and create try-scoring chances (like Johnathan Thurston, Shaun Johnson, Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary).

Pick a captain – who will earn double points – and nominate your starting 13 and four bench players, and you're on your way. Then, read my hints and tips throughout the year to help out with your trades as you build a dominant side by the end of the season.

You'll watch the game like you never did before, become an expert about the NRL's rising stars, and will get the chance to beat your mates in the process.

It's fun. It's addictive. It's Fantasy footy.

This article first appeared on

Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.