The Sharks kick off their home start to the season with a clash against the stumbling Waratahs at Growthpoint Kings Park.
Rob du Preez's men will be looking to bring the good times back to Kings Park this Saturday. His team managed to pick up five valuable points while on tour and now return home for their third consecutive game against Australian opposition. While they will have home ground advantage, the Sharks are likely to face their stiffest test of the year yet as the Waratahs, whilst defensively porous, did run in some spectacular tries during last week's defeat to the Lions.
Sharks v Waratahs | Saturday 11 March | King Park | 19:30
To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 9/20 | Draw 22/1 | Waratahs 33/20
Sharks (-5.5) 9/10 | Waratahs (+5.5) 9/10
Rob du Preez's side have made a very promising start to the new campaign. A narrow loss to the Reds in Queensland (which they should have won) was followed up by an incredible 27-22 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra, and they now begin the home part of their season with a solid platform of five log points.
After many a season promising to adopt a philosophy of attacking rugby (something that the classic Sharks sides of the past were renowned for), this Sharks outfit finally seem to have found the right mix of players to play that type of game. Mobile loose-forwards, coupled with a speedy backline have allowed for this, and early signs indicate that this bunch of Natalians can finally take a much-needed step in the right direction, and potentially begin to challenge bigger sides in the competition again.
With the hardest part of their campaign out of the way, Patrick Lambie's bunch will be confident of pushing the likes of the Lions and Stormers for the South African Super Rugby Conference this year - especially with the majority of their upcoming matches being played in Durban. Du Preez seems to be building a family-orientated atmosphere that was the pillar of Natal rugby under the Ian Mackintosh and Dick Muir years, and that led to so much sustained success. If the Sharks win this weekend, which they should, they could be on course to go further in the competition than was initially expected...
Whatever happened to the victorious 'Tahs class of 2014? Daryl Gibson's men battled for relevance in the '15 and '16 seasons, and seem to be doing "a Reds" and sliding even further down the ladder this year. An unconvincing home win against the Western Force in Week One was followed up by a shocking display in Johannesburg, where the 'Tahs went down to the Lions by 55 points to 36 (and trust me, they were lucky to score those 36 points).
It would seem that they are missing the services of (amongst others) Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps (to injury), and the mercurial talent of Kurtley Beale (who has taken up a contract with London Wasps). It would also seem that the Israel Folau outside centre experiment is not developing as many anticipated, and this has added to the side's impotence on attack.
A lot of soul-searching needs to be done by Michael Hooper and his charges, and soon. They will battle to challenge for the Aussie Conference if they continue on this downward spiral, with their draw not getting any easier. A lot more intensity and accuracy is required to down a solid Sharks outfit this weekend, though I can't see them challenging in Durban for the full eighty.
Verdict: Sharks (-5.5) 9/10
Confidence, and the fact that they are playing at home will see the Sharks to a comfortable win this weekend.