Johannesburg - Sharks captain Keegan Daniel believes the team's current pre-season programme is the toughest in which he has been involved as their preparation for the new season gathers momentum.
The Durban franchise began full training in the first week of January and will look to build on the success of last year when they reached the Super Rugby playoffs and finished runners-up in the Currie Cup.
They launch their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls in Pretoria on February 24 and Daniel said he expected another formidable season ahead.
"Pre-season's been going well, I must say," Daniel said on Wednesday.
"It's certainly not easy and probably the toughest one that I've had since I've been at the union.
"The boys are all putting in the hard work. It's one of the most difficult competitions in world rugby, the Super 15.
"You've got to come into the competition in the best condition as you can.
"We have to put in a lot of hard work now, and that's what we're doing, so hopefully it will all pay off in the months ahead."
In the the previous two seasons, the Sharks had participated in a tri-series warm-up competition hosted by the Stormers in Cape Town, but this year they withdrew.
They will instead face Currie Cup First Division champions Boland and the Eastern Province Kings in friendly matches over the next four weeks, along with an internal trials match.
Coach John Plumtree said the three-team tournament in Cape Town had hardly helped them in the past.
"We've been involved in the series for the last couple of years and it never really worked for us," Plumtree said.
Daniel was confirmed as the Sharks' skipper on Monday, retaining the armband after his initial stint in the role during last year's Currie Cup.
"I had a taste of the captaincy during the Currie Cup last year and I was certainly very proud with the fact that I've been asked to carry on," he said.
"I want to now build on what we did last year.
"Having a few senior guys coming back in from the Springboks is certainly going to make it a little bit different, perhaps a little bit easier because I can draw on them and their experience every now and then.
"So it will be good to have that added element.
"It's not only about me, it's going to be about the team, and we're looking to build characters within this team.
"It's important to have a winning team and I'm looking forward to leading these guys in what will be a tough year."
The Sharks have added two key figures to their backline with fullback Riaan Viljoen joining from Griquas and Tim Whitehead making a move from Western Province.
They no longer have the services of Stefan Terblanche and Adrian Jacobs.
"We've got a couple of young guys that have come through the ranks from under-21 level, along with the new signings," Daniel said.
"They've all been fitting in well and we're enjoying having the new faces around."