The Sharks could be a handful if they marry defensive fortitude with consistency
Having reached two consecutive quarter-finals‚ there will be an onus on the Sharks to go one better this season.
Of the finals they've been to (1996‚ 2001‚ 2007‚ 2012)‚ they've failed dismally but showed inventiveness in getting that far.
The Sharks have the defensive resolve and discipline to go far in the tournament but whether they can keep on cashing the physical cheques they write for themselves remains to be seen.
However‚ they have a young and vibrant squad and their exciting backs will be their focal point.
How coach Robert du Preez utilises his namesake son at flyhalf alongside the considerable competition Curwin Bosch brings to the table will be crucial to the Sharks' success.
Robert du Preez junior may be a Currie Cup winning pivot who used last year's final to show his dad how good he is‚ but Bosch is a significantly talented 10 who knows he belongs at this level.
Bosch also has the Bok caps to show off with and once he sorts out his defensive issues‚ he'll cause Du Preez senior some serious selection headaches.
It's important that Du Preez senior selects with his head and not put paternal instincts ahead of the needs of the team.
Garth April is the team's best fullback while Lwazi Mvovo is also a perfectly serviceable last line when pressed into service.
The Sharks have all their bases covered and once they marry their defensive fortitude with consistency and a flowing backline‚ they'll be a handful.
Semi-finalists. They were badly robbed in last year's quarter-final against the Lions while the Hurricanes blew them out of the water the year before.
They also need to forget about how badly they choked in last year's Currie Cup final.
They led all season but lost the game that counted the most.
That's a worrying thing considering how difficult Super Rugby play-offs can be‚ especially when one has to travel across the Indian Ocean.
Five players to watch:
1) Makazole Mapimpi (wing)
Drex Mapimpi was probably the best winger in South Africa last year but inexplicably‚ former Springbok coach Allister Coetzee simply refused to give him a look-in.
He scored tries in Super Rugby for the Southern Kings and to show he wasn't a one-trick show pony‚ followed that up with some scintillating displays in the Pro14.
The Sharks have a gem of a finisher here.
2) Akker van der Merwe (hooker)
Depth is crucial to any successful Super Rugby campaign‚ which is where Van Der Merwe falls into the picture.
He'll play third fiddle to Mahlatse “Chilliboy” Ralepelle and Franco Marais but he's a good bet for a fair run if one of these two players get injured.
Just needs to polish up on his core throwing work but he's the complete ball carrying package‚ especially as an impact player.
3) Courtney Winnaar (flyhalf/fullback)
There's every possibility that Winnaar may have a minimal role to play but in terms of being a complete flyhalf in the event of an injury crisis‚ the 20-year-old is the complete package.
He's slight of frame but has the complete skill set to seamlessly replace the main flyhalves.
As the New Zealand franchises have shown‚ complete trust has to be shown in your full squad complement.
4) Louis Schreuder (scrumhalf)
Now that he's a capped Bok‚ Schreuder knows he's in the limelight and not bubbling under anymore.
The Boks are in need of a nine who can do all the basics to a point where they look like magic and he fits the bills.
He passes and kicks well so those boxes are ticked but with Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara showing you need a bit more than that to thrive‚ Schreuder is the best placed number nine to fill that void. With Rudy Paige relegated by the Bulls‚ the chance lies ahead for his to show he's the best understudy to Ross Cronje.
5) Ruan Botha (lock)
Well‚ he's the captain but finds himself in the most competitive position in South African rugby.
Eben Etzebeth‚ Lodewyk de Jager‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert are just some of the names he has to contend with.
However‚ him and Stephan Lewies got the better of some of their contemporaries.
The fact a player like Botha is struggling to break into the national team set-up is a good thing for South African rugby but he's an asset for the Sharks.
Sharks Super Rugby Squad:
Akker van der Merwe‚ Coenie Oosthuizen‚ Chiliboy Ralepelle‚ Daniel du Preez‚ Franco Marais‚ Gideon Koegelenberg‚ Hyron Andrews‚ Jacques Vermeulen‚ Jean Droste‚ Jean-Luc du Preez‚ John-Hubert Meyer‚ Juan Schoeman‚ Keegan Daniel‚ Kerron van Vuuren‚ Khuta Mchunu‚ Lubabalo 'Tera' Mtembu‚ Mzamo Majola‚ Philip van der Walt‚ Ross Geldenhuys‚ Ruan Botha‚ Stephan Lewies‚ Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira‚ Thomas du Toit‚ Tyler Paul‚ Wian Vosloo‚ Andre Esterhuizen‚ Cameron Wright‚ Courtney Winnaar‚ Curwin Bosch‚ Garth April‚ Grant Williams‚ Jeremy Ward‚ Johan Deysel‚ Kobus van Wyk‚ Leolin Zas‚ Louis Schreuder‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Lwazi Mvovo‚ Makazole Mapimpi‚ Marius Louw‚ Michael Claassens‚ Rhyno Smith‚ Robert du Preez‚ S'busiso Nkosi‚ Tristan Blewett