Sadly, the AFL has not seen fit to change its pre-game team reporting procedures to make life any easier for fantasy fans (or gamblers) for round 1 in 2008 by only allowing one hour and ten minutes from the official announcement of the Saturday teams at 5pm Thursday to the start of the first game of the season at 6:10pm Thursday local time. That seventy minutes is likely to see an enormous amount of pressure on VirtualSports’ servers, groaning as they are under the weight of more and more competitions this year, as Dream Teamers, Super Coaches, Yahoos and many other participants all try to tweak their squads one last time with the knowledge of the starting benches of six teams. It is highly likely that, due to no fault of the VS crew, many coaches will be unable to make vital late changes and will go into round 1 with zeroes in their 22 that need not have happened. Add to that the fact that we’ll only get extended squads for the Sunday and Monday games, and it’s a huge pain in the you-know-what for fantasy coaches.
So, how to minimise your exposure to this sub-prime risk? Here’s a look at the four days and the fringe players you should be looking at as teams come in.
Thursday 20 March: Teams of 22 at Wednesday 5pm
Carlton v Richmond: Darren Pfeiffer is the best prospect from the Blues who is just at the edges of their most likely 22 for round 1. If he’s named tomorrow, consider him not just for a bench spot, but a spot in your 22 (if you have a rookie slot in your backs open… which you should!). He may not score as much as some of the other hot rookie backs, but at least you know he’ll play if named. Another rookie from the Blues who has shown a bit in the pre-season is Adam Hartlett, though doubt lingers over his fitness – he’s an outside chance to replace Brad Fisher at CHF for the Blues, though the same could be said of half a dozen youngsters at Carlton. On the Tigers side, keep an eye on their young ruckmen. Whoever gets named to back up Troy Simmonds might have to step up a lot this year as Adam Pattison did last year, though it’s no certainty that Pattison will be #2 in ’08 with Angus Graham in the wings and Tristan Cartledge on the rookie list (with Danny Meyer having just gone on the LTI list). Also, we haven’t seen much of Daniel Connors in the pre-season but if he’s named then he might be a sneaky alternative for a sub-$150k centre like Courtenay Dempsey whom you won’t know about until after lockout.
Port Adelaide v Geelong: Port’s fringe players are mostly uninteresting for fantasy purposes this year, but Geelong have a couple of intriguing options in Brent Prismall and Ryan Gamble. Prismall’s stocks have risen recently with David Wojcinski‘s injury, which in conjunction with interrupted pre-seasons to Paul Chapman, Joel Selwood and Kane Tenace has given Prismall’s chances of locking down an early-season midfield spot a much-needed boost. Gamble is a gamble, but at least you’ll know which way the cards fall on Wednesday.
Saturday 22 March: Squads of 25 on Wednesday 5pm, teams of 22 on Thursday 5pm
Collingwood v Fremantle: You would expect Rhys Palmer to be named, and thus to make his way into plenty of fantasy sides as the “safe” rookie centre option. Not many rookies to talk about on the Pie side, with Ben Reid the only outside chance… and I wouldn’t touch him for this season anyway.
St Kilda v Sydney: A lot of interest here. Jarryn Geary, David Armitage and Clinton Jones are all on the bubble for the Saints, while there has been plenty of press about the Swans going young with Craig Bird, Kieran Jack and Jarred Moore all attracting scrutiny. The biggest story, however, might be the surprise inclusion of Brendon Goddard, which would put the wind up many a coach who would look at his 2007 numbers in comparison to those of 2006 and see the big drop, thus making him a tasty cut-price premium prospect. I would advise not having him in your 22 now, for obvious reasons. If you want to go ultra-risky, though, try getting online to swap him in in that 70-minute maelstrom and see how you go!
West Coast v Brisbane: It’s very easy to devise an excellent starting 22 for the Eagles which contains no rookies at all. For precedent, we have the fact that even Chris Judd didn’t start in round 1 of his first year. The Eagles’ new top 3 draft pick Chris Masten is thusly a doubtful starter, and even if there is a spot for a youngun in the West Coast lineup he’ll have to fight for it with the likes of Jamie McNamara and Scott Selwood. Intrigue also surrounds the fact that Selwood is still doing year 12, an affliction which has already written off the first AFL season of Patrick Dangerfield. McNamara in particular is going to be hard to leave on your fantasy bench for the likes of Bird or Geary, but you may have to do it before 5pm just to make sure of having 22 non-zeroes, and then hope to swap him in if he survives the cut. Let us hope that if one of them is to play like Matt Priddis did in round 1 last year, he’s named somewhere important like the centre. As for Brisbane, it’s generally accepted that Albert Proud is an excellent prospect and hopefully will be named on the ground for the Lions, so as to avoid messy extended bench shenanigans.
Sunday 23 March: Squads of 25 on Thursday 5pm
Western Bulldogs v Adelaide: Josh Hill is the only interesting Dogs rookie, and I’d only rate him as bench fodder anyway so feel safe stowing him there if he’s named. Kurt Tippett will play, so don’t get spooked if he’s on the extended bench. James Sellar might not play so even if his name makes it onto that list of seven don’t expect it to last until Sunday.
Hawthorn v Melbourne: With so many suspensions on the Hawks you’d expect all of their fantasy-relevant rookies to play in round 1 – it’s the rounds afterward that are the worry, when their three suspended midfielders return. Start Travis Tuck and Jarryd Morton (EDIT: plus Cyril Rioli) without a worry, just have your fingers crossed that they’ll still be there by round 6 (or that their price had peaked by then). Melbourne will most likely name Cale Morton on their bench of seven, which is going to be tricky. He would be worth keeping on your bench in favour of a Saturday rookie, and then he’d also be worth braving the torrent to get him back in your 22 if press reports indicate he’ll play. Also keep an eye on Clint Bartram and Paul Wheatley.
Monday 24 March: Squads of 25 on Thursday 5pm
Kangaroos v Essendon: Expect Bachar Houli, Ricky Dyson and Lachie Hansen to play. Beyond that, you’re on your own. If any of your rookies in this game are named on extended benches, bench them in your side and don’t make them emergencies either. It’s as simple as that.
Oh, and you think that’s all? Hell no! The last deadline is the final teamsheets for Carlton v Richmond, 45 minutes before lockout, and if you completely trust Nick Stevens to be telling the truth about his “neck” injury, then I’ve got some lunar land parcels to sell you, complete with sub-prime mortgages from Bear Stearns. Imagine the disastrous scrambling if Stevo suddenly pulls out in that last hour? Utter chaos!