Super Rugby preview: Sharks
Cape Town - It is often difficult to know what to expect from the Sharks in Super Rugby and that is very much the case in 2017.
They have a new coach in Robert du Preez, who is believed to be a tad more adventurous than Gary Gold was last year.
The Sharks started pre-season before any of the other South African Super Rugby sides and they have placed a major emphasis on fitness and conditioning ahead of the new season.
They did well to make the play-offs last year given that they had to play the New Zealand franchises in regular season. Their quarter-final at the Hurricanes saw them walloped 41-0 in Wellington, however, and in the end the Durbanites would have been disappointed with their return.
This year, they play the Aussie teams and they will be backing themselves to go one step further.
Of course, the Sharks are grouped with the Lions in their African conference.
Pat Lambie will captain the Sharks and is certainly their most important player. It is not so much Lambie's ability that is in question, but more his fitness. The flyhalf has played just 16 Super Rugby matches in the last 3 years and if the Sharks are to have any real success in 2017, their playmaker will need to stay fit. The fitness of scrumhalf Cobus Reinach is also key.
Nobody really stands out. The Sharks did sign French fullback Clement Poitrenaud, but at 34-years-old how much of an impact he will make remains to be seen. Kobus van Wyk and Jeremy Ward are also exciting acquisitions in the Sharks backline, while loose forward Jacques Vermeulen arrives from the Stormers.
Marcell Coetzee barely featured for the Sharks last year because of injury but his departure to Ulster will hurt. Willie le Roux is the other big one - the fullback leaving for Wasps. His absence means that it could be a big year for young Curwin Bosch.
February 24: Reds (a)
March 4: Brumbies (a)
March 11: Waratahs (h)
March 18: Kings (h)
March 25: Cheetahs (a)
April 1: Lions (a)
April 8: Jaguares (h)
April 15: BYE
April 22: Rebels (h)
April 29: Jaguares (a)
May 6: Force (h)
May 13: Kings (a)
May 20: Sunwolves (a)
May 27: Stormers (h)
June 30: Bulls (h)
July 15: Lions (h)
We've had a chat, and we reckon the Sharkies could be one to watch this year. It's a big call, but we see them challenging the Lions for top spot in the conference and maybe even securing a home quarter-final.