With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon, we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Sharks!
Optimism is running high in Durban following the return of Jake White to South Africa and a new era for the franchise under CEO John Smit. But can the Sharks translate potential into success?
Last Year: One to forget for the Sharks, who won as many games as they lost - eight - and finished fourth in the South African Conference only above the Kings.
Overall the Sharks finished six points off the final wildcard spot taken by the Cheetahs, an indication of the gap they need to make up this season.
The absence of Bismarck du Plessis for such a long period in the middle of the season naturally was an issue, as were the other injuries - Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski to name a few - that hampered any sense of progress or ambitions for success.
It just shows what an effect losing so many frontline players can have, as the Sharks went from losing only once in their first seven games, to then only winning one of their next eight. Consistency is everything in Super Rugby and if you don't have it, you'll go nowhere.
This Year: With a healthy, deep squad and White at the helm, the sky is the limit for the Sharks. The Bulls have been decimated by departures, the Stormers' attack remains ineffective and the Cheetahs are light behind their star players, appearing to give the Sharks the advantage in the South African Conference.
Part of the reason for such optimism comes from the pack and at 10-12. An all Springbok front-row with Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers is peerless in Super Rugby, before adding Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean Deysel, Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and of course Willem Alberts - it's a first-class set of forwards. Bringing in Lourens Adriaanse from the Cheetahs and Etienne Oosthuizen back from the Brumbies doesn't hurt.
That should give Pat Lambie and Steyn plenty of ball to work with. White appears to be dreaming of a flowing partnership between the two Springboks. Steyn is an interesting case, a World Cup winner at 19 who has seemingly drifted off the right path but now looks trimmer and ready to surge again.
Schedule wise, four matches at home to begin the season should give the Sharks the perfect head start. A three-game stretch taking on the Brumbies, Crusaders and Blues away from home will prove just how good this squad really is.
How can you not focus on Bismarck du Plessis. Named as captain of the squad for this season, the all-action hooker adds so much more than just set-piece work to this side. He is an example to follow in the loose and breakdown and should he stay fit, will no doubt guide the team to at least the knockout stages. Pieter-Steph du Toit behind is the new golden boy of Springbok rugby with an enormous future ahead of him. The Sharks though will need some tries to win this one, so look out for SP Marais at full-back, a recruit from the Kings.
Noteworthy Signings: Lourens Adriaanse (Cheetahs), Etienne Oosthuizen (Brumbies), Marco Wentzel (London Wasps), Tim Swiel (Western Province), SP Marais (Kings)
Noteworthy Losses: JC Janse van Rensburg, Craig Burden, Jandré Marais, Franco van der Merwe, Derick Minnie, Butch James, Meyer Bosman, Andries Coetzee, Louis Ludik, Riaan Viljoen
Topping the SA Conference might not be enough for the Sharks if they want to win the title, so a home semi-final is essential. Plenty rests on the shoulders of Lambie to come good and guide the team to success - it's time to see his potential converted into dominance.
With that pack that Sharks should have no excuses when it comes to creating an effective set-piece, giving numerous chances to the likes of Pietersen and Mvovo. This is a special squad, with an astute coach in White. Semi-Finals.
Feb 15: v Bulls, home
Feb 22: v Hurricanes, home
Week 3: Bye
March 8: v Lions, home
March 15: v Reds, home
March 22: v Bulls, away
March 29: v Waratahs, home
Week 8: Bye
April 12: v Lions, away
April 19: Cheetahs, home
April 25: v Highlanders, home
May 2: v Rebels, away
May 10: v Brumbies, away
May 17: v Crusaders, away
May 23: v Blues, away
May 31: v Stormers, home
July 5: v Cheetahs, away
July 12: v Stormers, away
by Ben Coles