Durban - With the Sharks' preparations for the 2012 Super Rugby season winding down, hooker Bismarck du Plessis insists his team can finally stake a claim for a maiden title win.
The coastal side has been runners-up and losing semi-finalists on three occasions each.
Even though the Sharks have never won Super Rugby, they have always been one of South Africa’s top contenders and this season will be no different.
"I think if you go into a season with Super Rugby not being one of your priorities, then you shouldn’t be playing," said Du Plessis.
"It’s a massive competition and we want to win it.
"We've been close to it a few times. So it’s definitely one of our major focuses."
The Durban franchise are in the final stages of preparation after a gruelling pre-season campaign that began over a month ago and culminates with two friendlies over the next two weeks.
They face Currie Cup First Division champions Boland on Friday, followed by a clash against the Eastern Province Kings next weekend.
The squad has lost several veterans with John Smit, Stefan Terblanche and Adrian Jacobs no longer on their books.
Keegan Daniel is the new captain, while Du Plessis is his deputy.
"I’m just there to help Keegan out, but it’s a great honour for myself to be named vice-captain," Du Plessis said.
"I think it’s been quite a long pre-season for all of us in the Durban heat, but I think the squad is looking good.
"We’ve got some new guys in and excellent young players so we are looking forward to getting on with it now."
Another major absentee from coach John Plumtree's squad is Du Plessis' front row partner for province and country, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, because of injury.
Mtawarira hurt his ankle at training two weeks ago and may be out for up to four months.
"I think losing Beast in any side will be a great loss, you’re losing a great ambassador," Du Plessis said.
"We’re definitely going to miss him, but I do think there are a few young guys coming through and it's a great opportunity for them.
"You wait for those sort of opportunities, and I do think we have players here who will jump on them."
The Sharks open their Super Rugby season against the Bulls in Pretoria on February 24.