The Sharks will start as favourites against an injury-hit Hurricanes side at Kings Park on Saturday.
Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields won't be involved for the Canes in their opener, which is a major blow. Shields and Vito's athleticism is often seen in wide channels, where they cause defences trouble, while Savea is New Zealand's 'next big thing'. A lot now rests on Faifili Levave and Jack Lam for the Hurricanes while Blade Thomson adds to his one appearance of last year at one of the toughest venues around, versus a side looking in-form.
Last week's 31-16 win over the Bulls at this ground saw strong games from several Sharks players, with a noticeable amount of hard work having gone in during the off-season. Frans Steyn looked to have slimmed down, Paul Jordaan seems niggle-free while Pat Lambie played smart.
Willem Alberts was not at his best against the Bulls, though, so a riposte is expected, with his carrying combined with a powerful driving maul set to feature heavily. If the Sharks do dominate up front, it would help nullify the threat that is Julian Savea and Cory Jane out wide.
Jane returns to Super Rugby following last season's injury and lines up alongside one of the stories of the past 12 months, Marty Banks. Banks earned a Hurricanes deal after impressing for Tasman in the New Zealand Cup, this coming after stints in Russia and New Zealand's Buller side.
Could it be a similar fairytale-esque start to the season for the Hurricanes? It's unlikely as this is a Sharks team on a mission that has a week of top-flight rugby under its belt. Expect moments of class from Beauden Barrett and company but the home side will have too much grunt.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S'bura Sithole.
Hurricanes – 15 Marty Banks, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Hadleigh Parks, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 James Marshall.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images