Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Sharks.
A new broom sweeps clean and the Durban-based franchise certainly has a lot of them, with a new coaching panel, new captain and a plethora of new signings for 2016.
Last year: After finishing third on the table in 2014, the Sharks were the underachievers of the 2015 season, failing to make the play-offs by quite some margin.
The opening round of local derbies in the South African conference were a struggle and the Sharks were already on the back foot with just one win from four games.
Marco Wentzel's men then built up some momentum with wins over the Cheetahs, Chiefs and Force to rise to third on the overall table. Unfortunately, that would be as high as they would go for the season.
A string of six losses, including a 48-15 walloping at the hands of eventual champions Highlanders would see them slip down to 11th where they would stay for the remainder of the season.
The poor finish saw the departure of coach Brad MacLeod-Henderson. Following that, the impeding Rugby World Cup saw a number of big name players sign for European clubs, leaving Director of Rugby Gary Gold with a bit of a headache.
This year: In an effort to right the wrongs of 2015, there are changes aplenty. The Sharks started with an overhaul of their coaching panel.
In the absence of a marquee coach, Gold appointed a four-man coaching panel. Ryan Strudwick will take charge of the forwards, Omar Mouneimne is looking after the defence while former Springbok scrum-half Robert du Preez and Sean Everitt are coaching skills and attack.
Aside from the brains trust, the Sharks have brought in no less than eleven players, seven of which have international caps. Among them are Keegan Daniel, who makes a long-awaited return to the Shark Tank after two years in Japan, attacking supremo Willie le Roux and scrum-half Michael Claassens, who all provide some much needed consistency in this vexing period.
Fixtures wise it looks as though a tricky tour to New Zealand in mid-April to take on the Blues, Highlanders and Chiefs could make or break their season.
Key players: With an untimely injury to would-be captain and fly-half Pat Lambie, back-up Garth April has now been thrust into the spotlight. While new signing Joe Pietersen could pull on the number ten jersey, the fleet-footed April started against Toulouse in their warm-up game and showed glimpses of class, perhaps enough to earn him a regular spot.
Either way, Pietersen was a metronome with the boot off the kicking tee for the Cheetahs franchise in 2015, something the Sharks will rely on if he starts during Lambie‘s 12-week absence.
In the forwards, Marcel Coetzee's tireless work-rate around the park will be key, as well as his nose for the try line when the rolling maul gets going. Don’t expect his newfound captaincy to affect his performance. Sharks fans will be hoping the Ulster-bound loose forward can leave the franchise on a high in August.
Players to watch: Jean Deysel with ball in hand at his destructive best is still a sight to behold. If the loose forward can hold his discipline at ruck time and in defence – which has been a problem in the past – the Sharks will enjoy plenty front-foot ball.
Cobus Reinach, one of the quickest half-backs in the competition, will no doubt provide some fireworks in open play. However, equally important is his service, which has improved over the last two seasons.
Former captain Wentzel lead the lineout stats in 2015 with 75 takes. This year he has been released by the Sharks, opening the door for Stephan Lewies. The 200cm powerhouse, along with Etienne Oosthuizen and Reds import David McDuling, will carry much of the responsibility at the set-piece.
Prospects: While the starting XV will look good on paper, it will be up to the new coaching staff to find the winning combinations on the field. With the unknown factor in the form of the Jaguares and the Currie Cup-winning Lions, topping their conference is no guarantee either.
However, should the Sharks remain strong during their seven home games in Durban then they have a strong chance of making the quarter-finals.
Players in: Chiliboy Ralepelle (Toulouse), Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Joe Pietersen (Cheetahs), Willie le Roux (Cheetahs), Jacques Potgieter (Waratahs), David McDuling (Reds), Keegan Daniel (Kubota Spears), Michael Claassens (Toulon), JP Pietersen (Panasonic Wild Knights), Johan Deysel (Namibia), Ruan Botha (Stormers).
Players out: Bismark and Jannie du Plessis (Montpellier), Willem Alberts (Stade Francais) and Francois Steyn (Montpellier), Fred Zeilinga (Cheetahs), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Lionel Cronje (released), Marco Wentzel (released), Waylon Murray (released).
Saturday, 27 February v Kings (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday, 5 March v Jaguares (Kings Park, Durban)
Saturday, 12 March v Stormers (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)
Friday, 18 March v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, 26 March v Crusaders (Kings Park, Durban)
Round 6: BYE
Saturday, 9 April v Lions (Kings Park, Durban)
Saturday, 16 April v Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
Friday, 22 April v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
Friday, 29 April v Chiefs (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth)
Saturday, 7 May v Hurricanes (Kings Park, Durban)
Saturday, 14 May v Jaguares (Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, 21 May v Kings (Kings Park, Durban)
Round 15: BYE
Saturday, 2 July v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Saturday, 9 July v Cheetahs (Kings Park, Durban)
Friday, 15 July v Sunwolves (Kings Park, Durban)