Durban - Sharks backline coach Sean Everitt understands that the Free State Cheetahs can throw the Currie Cup semi-final race wide open with a victory in their match at Kings Park on Saturday.
The hosts are currently second on the log with four regular season games remaining, while the visitors are three points back ahead of the duel.
"The Cheetahs... know if they get one over us they’ll be contenders for top spot as well, so it’s going to be a very competitive game," Everitt said.
"They are a dangerous side and they’re also experienced. They’re a Super Rugby team and did well in that competition. They have a few players returning from injury which will bolster their team and that experience will give them confidence."
Both teams are chasing log-leaders Western Province, who are a single point clear of the Sharks at the summit.
Last weekend, the coastal side came away 25-24 victors over Griquas in Kimberley, while the men from Bloemfontein scored a 26-23 home win over the Golden Lions.
Everitt said his side, with seven changes for the game, expected another tight contest in a highly competitive 2013 competition thus far.
"There have been a lot of close games. The Currie Cup as a whole has been very close," Everitt said.
"If you look at the log standings, even the guys in fifth and sixth have a shot. It’s a tight competition possibly due to the fact that there are quite a few inexperienced players in the tournament with the Springboks away and these youngsters are still finding their feet at this level."
Even though the Sharks won the first-round meeting at the Free State Stadium 18-15, Everitt was still not entirely satisfied with their game so far.
"What’s been disappointing is the fact that we’ve shown glimpses of what we’re capable of on attack, but unfortunately we haven’t had a lot of continuity," he said.
"That might be due to a lack of tries we’ve scored early in the games and the poor starts we’ve had. We’ve played catch-up rugby in all six fixtures that comes down to a bit of nervousness early in the game."
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské made just one change to his team with Lood de Jager replacing Teboho Mohoje at lock.
Drotské admitted in the build-up that their ability to play the full 80 minutes was something they had been focusing on this week after allowing the Lions to come back from the dead last weekend.
"It is something that almost cost us dearly against the Lions and something we can ill afford on Saturday against the Sharks," he said.
15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Heimar Williams, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Fred Zeilinga, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Tera Mtembu, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Peet Marais, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Dale Chadwick
Substitutes: 16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Rayno Gerber, 18. Edwin Hewitt, 19. Brynard Stander, 20. Cobus Reinach, 21. Butch James, 22. Jaco van Tonder
Free State Cheetahs:
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Philip van der Walt, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Willie du Plessis