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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Super Rugby Preview
Sharks certainly pick of South Africa - Growden
Greg Growden and Andy Withers
February 10, 2014
The Sharks are positioned better this year than for many seasons © Scrum.com
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Sharks' Super Rugby 2014 Squad

  • Willem Alberts, Meyer Bosman, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Craig Burden, Dale Chadwick, Andries Coetzee, Marcell Coetzee, Kyle Cooper, Keegan Daniel, Allan Dell, Jean Deysel, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Monde Hadebe, Wiehahn Herbst, Edwin Hewitt, Butch James, Paul Jordaan, Patrick Lambie, Louis Ludik, Jandre Marais, Peet Marais, Charl McLeod, Tian Meyer, Derick Minnie, Tendai Mtawarira, Lubabalo Mtembu, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Cobus Reinach, Sean Robinson, Sibusiso Sithole, Francois Steyn, Franco van der Merwe, JC Janse van Rensburg, Jaco van Tonder, Riaan Viljoen, Tim Whitehead, Fred Zeilinga
  • Sharks' Super Rugby 2014 fixtures

The Sharks are a traditional powerhouse in South Africa, but they need all the wit and wisdom of new director of coaching Jake White after morphing from pointers to gummies while riven by injuries last season. White will get the team structured and organised but you'd think the Sharks might need more than his structured game plan after losing their compass in search of the stripe; that said, look what the Brumbies did with little more than his structure and organisation. Greg Growden says the Sharks, like the Waratahs in Australia, have under-performed constantly, but Jake White's input will be important and they are certainly the pick of the South African provinces.

Last Season: eighth overall, fourth in South African Conference; the Sharks fell from grace having made the 2012 final against the Chiefs in Hamilton after a tough run through the play-offs. They started well, winning their first three, and five of their first six, but they then lost five on the bounce as they were gouged by injuries. Who knows what could have happened had they kept even a handful more players on the paddock, but they missed the play-offs in 2013 because of their limited ability to score tries; they played four matches without crossing the stripe, and their seasonal tally of 40 was inflated by 10 apiece in individual romps against outmatched Melbourne Rebels and Southern Kings.

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick examine the Super Rugby challenge from South Africa's five franchises

Key Man: Jake White has a record of taking workmanlike teams from the outhouse to the penthouse - his Springboks won Rugby World Cup 2007 and his Brumbies reached the Super Rugby final after each had been at a low ebb - and he will undoubtedly impose his technical blueprint on the Durban side. This isn't a team truly in the outhouse, however; they were runners up in 2012 and they retain a core of that team so White this time has an established base to work with. He will also surely enjoy better fortune with injuries than did his predecessor, John Plumtree.

Key Stat: The Sharks scored just 20 tries in 14 matches in 2013, tallying the remaining 50% of their seasonal total in humbling the Rebels and the Kings; it's not hard to see what the Sharks must improve in 2014, no matter how. That said, take a bow Sharks back-rowers after bagging 15 of the team's tries in 2013. And watch out if they replicate often their aforementioned performances against the Rebels and the Kings.

Rising Star: Sarel Petrus Marais showed with the over-matched Southern Kings in his maiden Super Rugby season that he had "something", and he confirmed that impression subsequently in claiming first dibs on the Sharks' No.15 jumper through their successful Currie Cup campaign. Jesse Mogg - another player with pace and a booming boot - developed into a Test player under White, and who's to say Marais won't follow suit once he overcomes a hand injury given he seems also to have a nose for a try like a boar for a truffle.

Super Rugby 2014: Team-by-team

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

Season Preview: The Sharks have to add tries to their repertoire if they are to make the pointy end of the campaign, but they have a good looking roster on paper and White has a record of developing under-performing sides into top teams. They have retained Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Steyn, Pat Lambie (although they need more from the playmaker) and back-rowers Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski, while Springboks tight-head Lourens Adriaanse also is a good capture from the Cheetahs. They should make more of a challenge in the South African log, and perhaps they might even feature deep in the play-offs.

Greg Growden's verdict: Jake White left the Brumbies in a huff after missing the Wallabies head-coaching job, and went back to South Africa where he is now director of rugby at the Sharks; no wonder Sharks fans are talking about this being their year, especially after winning the Currie Cup. It's about time they went all the way, because, like the Waratahs in Australia, they have under-performed constantly - regularly missing the finals when they had the talent and numbers to succeed. White's input will be important, and he will make them feel far more relaxed on their Australia-New Zealand road tour as he knows everything about the teams in this part of the world. The Sharks also boast experienced big-time players, with Frans Steyn a confirmed major match-winner, while Pat Lambie's ability to produce a consistent points flow will give them the opportunity to strangle opponents who antagonise referees to concede endless penalties. The Sharks are certainly the pick of the South African provinces.

Tip: First in South Africa Conference. Finish: Fourth.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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