The Sharks were the revelation of the 2007 Super 14 season after finishing at the top of the overall standings and earning a home Final with such a young team.
What was particularly striking about the Sharks during the course of last year was not so much the fact they achieved success, but rather it was the manner in which they achieved it.
They played a fast, exciting and positive brand of rugby despite the conditions not always being conducive to that pattern of play – the Durban humidity makes handling extremely difficult at times – and the Sharks faithful turned out in their droves week after week.
The Sharks young guns have matured considerably over the past year, however they are not quite ready to take over the reins from some of the seasoned campaigners that have either retired or left the Durban-franchise.
While coach Dick Muir deserves credit for managing the blend between the team’s youth and experience so well, the work has merely begun.
The Sharks have shown what they are capable of achieving, as they have done many times in the past, but it is now a matter of achieving that success consistently.
A starting point will be to at least qualify for the semi-finals this year and perhaps build on that in seasons to come.
Strengths: The team possesses immense talent and an astute coaching team. They are blessed with depth in the front and back rows. They also have creative backs that are lethal finishers at the best of times.
Weakness: The second row looks rather vulnerable at this stage and one has to worry about depth in that particular department. Asking Johan Ackermann (37) to stick around as back-up suggests they really don’t have experienced locks at their disposal.
Noteworthy signings:Jannie du Plessis (Cheetahs), Rudi Mathee (Lions), Frederick Michalak (France), Schalk van Jaarsveld (Leopards), Charl McLoed (Falcons), Epi Taione (Tonga), Frank Wagenstroom (Western Province)
Noteworthy losses: Gcobani Bobo (Stormers), Howard Noble (Lions), Warren Britz (retirement), John Smit (Clermont Auvergne), Percy Montgomery (Perpignan), Butch James (Bath), Dusty Noble (Cheetahs)
Coach: At the age of 43 Dick Muir is a fairly young coach, but his leadership style seems to bring the best out of his players. He gives them freedom to play their own games, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility, which the players quite enjoy.
Captain: Johann Muller will have an opportunity to lead the Sharks in his sixth season at the franchise. He is not a stand out player from a spectator’s perspective, but does the dirty, hard work well. He also commands respect from his teammates.
Player(s) to watch: Bismarck du Plessis is an aggressive and committed player with sound ball carrying abilities. He is always visible on the field and has a real opportunity to shine in John Smit’s absence. Jacques Botes is a loose forward with an outstanding work rate and great skills. Regardless of whether he is captain or not he has a lot to offer the team in the way of leadership.
2007 Position: 1st on the standings, losing finalists
Best finish: Runners-up in 1996, 2001 and 2007
Worst finish: 12th in 2000 and 2005
Home Venue: Absa Stadium, Durban (capacity 52,000)
2007 Prediction: The Sharks enjoyed an extraordinary season last year. But one suspects they won’t be as fortunate this season. They have a tougher draw and have lost valuable experience. They can only guarantee a top six-finish. If lady luck has her way, they will make the semi-final.
Sharks: Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Charl Mcleod, Francois Steyn, Frederick Michalak, Bradley Barritt, Adrian Jacobs, Waylon Murray, Odwa Ndungane, Stefan Terblanche, Henno Mentz, Andries Strauss, Dumisani Matyeshana, JP Pietersen, Frank Wagenstroom, Ryan Kankowski, Jacques Botes, Keegan Daniel, Rudi Mathee, AJ Venter, Jean Deysel, Johann Muller, Albert van den Berg, Steven Sykes, Alistair Hargreaves, Nikolai Blignaut, Johan Snyman, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Kees Lensing, Robbie Harris, BJ Botha, Deon Carstens, Patric Cilliers, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Skipper Badenhorst, Craig Burden, Johan Ackermann
February 15: v Western Force, home
February 23: v Stormers, home
March 1: v Bulls, away
March 8: v Blues, home
March 15: v Lions, away
March 21/22: Bye
March 29: v Reds, home
April 5: v Hurricanes, away
April 11: v Highlanders, away
April 19: v Brumbies, away
April 26: v Waratahs, away
May 2: v Crusaders, away
May 10: v Cheetahs, home
May 17: v Chiefs, home