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With the Pre-season Challenge now finished and the start of the season less than a fortnight away, it's time to begin your NRL Fantasy Draft journey for 2023. 

Whether you're a seasoned Classic player or totally new to NRL Fantasy, the Draft version of the game is an interactive way to compete with other players in a league to build the very best roster possible. 

Coaches select players in turns according to a pre-determined list, with no salary cap to adhere to. 

Last week, our NRL Fantasy Experts got together for a mock draft to see which players are set to be hot property, and which positions are the most important to prioritise in the early rounds of selections. 

While there are different squad formats you can draft for, in this case we've gone with six starting players who will score (1x WFB, 1x CTR, 1x HLF, 1x MID, 1x HOK and 1x EDG), along with six bench players who won't score unless promoted into the starting side. 

We also opted for a live snake draft, with picks going in reverse order each round, so the coach who picked first overall then picked last at the end of the second round, for the sake of parity and fairness.  

Head to the NRL Fantasy Draft section on the Fantasy website or app to start your own Draft league or enter one of the public leagues looking for players. More information on the Draft version of the game can be found here. Fantasy mock draft 

Round 1

1: Nathan Cleary (HLF) - Team Rosser
2: Nicho Hynes (HLF) - Team McIntosh
3: Cameron Munster (HLF) - Team Newton 
4: Damien Cook (HOK) - Team Moffitt
5: Joseph Tapine (MID) - Team Scifleet
6: Cameron Murray (MID) - Team Grzadka
7: Harry Grant (HOK) - Team Lapthorne 
8: Reece Robson (HOK) - Team Molinaroli 

Analysis: No surprises with the first two picks given Cleary and Hynes are tipped to be the top halves in 2023 and are set and forget captaincy options. New Wests Tigers signing Isaiah Papali'i is the major omission after being the sixth best scorer by average last year, with Raiders prop Joseph Tapine the bolter. Three HOK players being taken in the first round speaks to the relative lack of elite Fantasy talent in the position, with coaches keen to lock one in nice and early. 

Round 2

9: James Tedesco (WFB) - Team Molinaroli 
10: Daly Cherry-Evans (HLF) - Team Lapthorne 
11: Matt Burton (HLF) - Team Grzadka
12: Joseph Manu (CTR/WFB) - Team Scifleet
13: Isaiah Papali'i (EDG) - Team Moffitt
14: Payne Haas (MID) - Team Newton 
15: Isaah Yeo (MID) - Team McIntosh
16: Api Koroisau (HOK) - Team Rosser

Analysis: Some interesting moves based off predicated 2023 form rather than last year's Fantasy scores, with Matt Burton, Joseph Manu and Api Koroisau all being selected in the second round despite not ranking in the top 20 by average points scored last year. Isaiah Papali'i (62 average points in 2022) and Payne Haas (56.6 average points in 2022) could be bargain finds here. 

NRL Fantasy essentials: Matt Burton

Round 3

17: Latrell Mitchell (WFB) - Team Rosser 
18: Jayden Brailey (HOK) - Team McIntosh
19: David Fifita (EDG) - Team Newton 
20: Patrick Carrigan (MID) - Team Moffitt
21: Reed Mahoney (HOK) - Team Scifleet
22: Hudson Young (EDG) - Team Grzadka
23: Reuben Cotter (MID) - Team Lapthorne 
24: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (MID) - Team Molinaroli 

The five players whose stock is rising during the Pre-season Challenge

Analysis: MID players were a focus as coaches rushed to pick up the last of the big scorers in that position. There were couple of players selected here who would be down on many draft lists based off their scores last year, but who are expected to be much improved in 2023. That includes Jayden Brailey, who showed some very good signs in his return from a torn Achilles, and David Fifita who was below his best in 2022 but has been a Fantasy gun previously. 

Round 4

25: Mitchell Moses (HLF) - Team Molinaroli 
26: John Bateman (EDG) - Team Lapthorne
27: Tom Trbojevic (WFB) - Team Grzadka
28: Adam Doueihi (HLF) - Team Scifleet
29: Scott Drinkwater (WFB) - Team Moffitt
30: Brandon Smith (HOK/MID) - Team Newton 
31: Angus Crichton (EDG) - Team McIntosh
32: Shaun Lane (EDG) - Team Rosser 

Analysis: Grabbing Wests Tigers signing John Bateman at No. 26 could be a stroke of genius, given his Fantasy form in his previous NRL stint back in 2019-2020, but it does come with some risk. Tom Trbojevic has the potential to be an elite Fantasy WFB again if he can stay healthy, while Angus Crichton and Shaun Lane were top three EDG players in the game last year and could be astute pickups when they return to the field. 

Drinkwater gets a quick double

Round 5

33: David Klemmer (MID) - Team Rosser
34: Kalyn Ponga (WFB) - Team McIntosh
35: Lachlan Miller (WFB) - Team Newton 
36: Campbell Graham (CTR) - Team Moffitt
37: Haumole Olakau'atu (EDG) - Team Scifleet
38: Jack Bird (EDG/CTR) - Team Grzadka
39: Valentine Holmes (CTR) - Team Lapthorne
40: Keaon Koloamatangi (EDG) - Team Molinaroli 

Analysis: Those who prioritised other areas earlier on moved to pick up WFB and CTR options in this round, while punts were taken on Lachlan Miller, who we have only a small sample size of from last year, and Kalyn Ponga, who shifts from fullback to five-eighth in 2023. Jack Bird is a valuable Fantasy player because he can play CTR but will likely line up in the forwards for the Dragons, where his scores should be much higher than someone playing out wide. 

NRL Fantasy essentials: Kalyn Ponga

Round 6

41: Stephen Crichton (CTR) - Team Molinaroli 
42: Joseph Suaali'i (WFB) - Team Lapthorne
43: Nat Butcher (MID/EDG) - Team Grzadka
44: Zac Lomax (CTR) - Team Scifleet
45: Jahrome Hughes (HLF) - Team Moffitt
46: Selwyn Cobbo (CTR/WFB) - Team Newton 
47: Siosifa Talakai (CTR) - Team McIntosh 
48: Jesse Ramien (CTR) - Team Rosser

Analysis: The fact that five CTR eligible players were taken this far back shows the thinking behind this position, which often sees volatile scores from even the upper-tier options. If they missed out on one of the few elite options, most coaches decided it wasn't a position worth burning an early pick on. 

Cobbo in cruise control

Snapshot of the final six rounds 

Our draftees had the pick of the bunch when it came to selecting their wider bench, with no requirement on positions. With that in mind players with dual position player (DPP) status were a priority for many, given the extra value they bring to a team when injuries and suspensions strike. A couple of coaches picked up top players who ended up slipping well down the draft order too, including Ryan Matterson, who was a top EDG last year averaging 54 points per game, Dylan Brown (2022 average of 52.6 points) and Sean O'Sullivan, who averaged 50.4 last year and will be the first-choice No.7 at the Dolphins. 

Achieving a balance of different positions in your squad should be a focus with later picks, while depending on the size of the league, your knowledge of promising rookies or players likely to have an elevated role at their club in 2023 comes into play here. 

Final squads 

Having the first pick means owning one of the game's top players in Nathan Cleary, but also means a fair drop off to the next best player in this team, with the second and third picks coming at No.16 and No.17. Some bad luck too, with this draft conducted before the second week of the Pre-season Challenge, which saw Taylan May pick up a season-ending knee injury, meaning an early trip to the free agent pool will be on the cards. 

An embarrassment of riches in the MID position here, with Isaah Yeo, Cameron McInnes, Jake Trbojevic and Adam Elliott all having to fit into one scoring spot. That said, they could be valuable trade commodities down the track. Nicho Hynes is a huge pickup with the No.2 overall pick and gives this side a reliable elite scoring captain. 

Two quality halves selected, with Cameron Munster being taken with the No.3 overall pick before Dylan Brown was found beyond the sixth round. Lachlan Miller is a bit of a punt, but there's a good backup there in Reece Walsh. David Fifita was likely undervalued in this draft and if his Pre-season Challenge game in Round 2 is anything to go by, he's set for a big year. 

Elite players were secured at HOK and EDG, with Pat Carrigan also emerging as a top MID last season. Ryan Papenhuyzen won't be available for at least the first six rounds of the season, but is a luxury to have on the bench if and when he surpasses Scott Drinkwater in scoring. The squad is well balanced in terms of position cover.

Some astute pickups in later rounds, with Jackson Hastings and J'maine Hopgood, mean there is some nice depth here. Joseph Tapine and Joseph Manu were brave early picks, while Adam Doueihi showed signs in the Wests Tigers' final Pre-season Challenge game that he's ready for a big year.

Led by the top MID in Fantasy, Cameron Murray, this squad has got some nice depth in the forwards, with Nat Butcher and James Fisher-Harris on the bench. But the decision not to go for a HOK in the opening rounds means relying on Tanah Boyd, whose scores will likely be a little erratic in the halves for the Titans.

A heavy Queensland presence in the starting line-up with five of the six playing for the Maroons last year. Harry Grant and Reuben Cotter are both elite players in their respective positions, while Daly Cherry-Evans is at the top of the second-tier halves in Fantasy. Ryan Matterson, who will be out suspended to start the season, is a good get in the later rounds. 

While having the last pick meant missing out on an elite talent first up, it also meant claiming teo very good players back-to-back in Reece Robson and James Tedesco at picks No.8 and No.9. A nicely balanced squad with decent scorers in all starting positions, and a couple of nice late steals in Sean O'Sullivan and Teig Wilton. 

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour 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.