Bloemfontein - With eight Springboks in their starting line-up, the Sharks must be the overwhelming favourites to record their first win of the Super Rugby season, but coach John Plumtree insists they will not underestimate the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
While the visitors boast stalwarts like backline stars JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie, and Ryan Kankowski and Marcell Coetzee among the loose forwards, the Cheetahs will field a mixed bag of youth and experience.
"The Cheetahs are an unpredictable team that can be very dangerous and they demand respect," Plumtree said.
"We want to start the season on a high because that would just make things easier going into the next couple of games.
"We have prepared really well in the off season and are looking forward to a good opening performance."
If pre-season performances are any indication, the Sharks deserve the favourites tag, after beating the Leopards and Pumas convincingly in their warm-up matches.
The Cheetahs lost against the Bulls after beating the Stormers and would not have gained much confidence going into the season opener.
The Free State outfit will board the plane for their overseas tour shortly after playing the Sharks, and coach Naka Drotske would appreciate his side gaining some valuable momentum before playing defending champions the Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand, next week.
The hosts came up short against the Sharks on both occasions last season and an early victory over the 2012 finalists would give them valuable confidence.
"It is a crucial game for us from a touring perspective," Drotske said.
"We have guys like Johan Goosen and Coenie Oosthuizen back, but the team still needs to produce the goods if we are to take some momentum with us abroad.
"This is also our first home game and one we simply cannot lose."
15. Hennie Daniller, 14. Willie le Roux, 13. Johann
Sadie, 12. Robert Ebersohn, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Johan Goosen, 9. Piet
van Zyl, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Lappies Labuschagne, 6. Frans
Viljoen, 5. Francois Uys, 4. Lood de Jager, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2.
Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1. Trevor Nyakane
16. Ryno Barnes, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Waltie Vermeulen, 19. Boom
Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21. Elgar Watts, 22. Ryno BenjaminSharks:
Louis Ludik, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan 12. Francois Steyn
(captain), 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8.
Ryan Kankowski, 7. Marcell Coetzee, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Franco van der
Merwe, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Craig Burden, 1.
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn
Herbst, 18. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Charl McLeod, 21.
Meyer Bosman, 22. Odwa Ndungane