The Sharks snuck into the playoffs last year but will be hoping to go much deeper in 2017 with a new coach in charge.
Home: Absa Stadium, Durban
Last Season: 8th
Squad (as of 14 February):
Curwin Bosch, Kobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie (captain), Michael Claassens, Keegan Daniel, Jean-Luc du Preez, Philip van der Walt, Ruan Botha, Ettienne Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Beast Mtawarira, Juan Schoeman, Franco Marais, Lourens Adriaanse, Jean Droste, Hyron Andrews, Francois Kleinhans, Jacques Vermeulen, Tera Mtembu, Cobus Reinach, Bernhard Janse van Rensburg, Sbu Nkosi, Jeremy Ward, Johan Deysel, S’bura Sithole, Clement Poitrenaud.
The Sharks final squad will not be named until just before the tournament begins but there have been signs that the infusion of new blood into the squad has been making its presence felt and the management face some difficulties ahead of making their final choices. The side has a new coach in Robert du Preez.
A potential key man for the Sharks loose forward Keegan Daniel is back after two years playing rugby in Japan but injury in pre-season play will preclude his participation until May. The former Super Rugby captain, who has more than 100 games for the side, has plenty of experience to offer. A former international as well, he has a try scoring habit which will make him another string to the side’s attacking bow when he does return.
Naming Patrick Lambie captain is a significant step not only for him but for the Sharks. Lambie, before a run of frustrating injuries to his head, neck and a bicep, was regarded as one of the comers on the South African scene but he has yet to reach his full potential with no sign yet of a permanent place in the national side at first five-eighths or fullback. He says, after hardly having played for the Sharks for the last two seasons, he is looking forward to playing again and aims to enjoy himself. If he can regain his best touches that spells trouble for opposing sides and also for five-eighths contender Handre Pollard who is also on the comeback from injury, and also doing captaincy duty for his Bulls team.
Former Junior World Cup-winning Jacques Vermeulen, 21, has signed with the Sharks ahead of his home side the Stormers. Realising there were several contenders for his position in the Cape, he moved to Durban where he hopes his versatility in the loose will allow him to make the impact he believes he is capable of.
Cobus Reinach is set to return at halfback after tearing an ACL last year and that could be good news for his partnership with Lambie. The halfback was making a strong bid for Test permanence when injury struck. If the pair can reclaim their best touches it will be a big boost for the Sharks. Coach du Preez says off-season advances in skills and fitness levels will be tested in match play. “Ultimately we have a vision of how we want to play but we have to take it one game at a time and build on what is successful in each game,” he said. A key signing may also prove to be former Stormers wing Kobus van Wyk.