ANDRE HUISAMEN selects the best players who represented the Sharks between 2010 and 2019.
1. Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira
The echoes of ‘Beeeaasssttt’ will be missed at Kings Park from next year, following the retirement of Tendai Mtawarira. He became a household name in Durban and one of the most respected rugby figures around the world during his career. He joined the Sharks’ senior team in 2006 and went on to become the most-capped Vodacom Super Rugby player in South African rugby history when he surpassed Adriaan Strauss’ record of 156 appearances earlier this year. He would eventually finish on 159 caps, leaving big boots to fill for his successor at prop.
2. Bismarck du Plessis
Having arrived at the Sharks in 2005 from Bloemfontein, Bismarck du Plessis soon made it clear that he was going to be a big player for the union in years to come. He eventually became the first-choice hooker above John Smit and, in 2014, former Bok coach Jake White named him as his captain for the Sharks’ Super Rugby campaign. He was also a standout player in the 2012 Super Rugby season when the Sharks managed to make it to the final against the Chiefs, while he a played a key role in the Sharks winning the Currie Cup in 2013. After a total of 173 appearances for the Sharks, Du Plessis decided to move to French club Montpellier in 2015.
3. Jannie du Plessis
Followed a very similar route as brother Bismarck. Jannie du Plessis also had a massive impact on Sharks and Springbok rugby the past decade and together with Mtawarira and his brother, achieved unprecedented success together. The front-row partnership they first formed at the Sharks became one of the best ever, even for the Springboks. Jannie also represented the coastal side more than 150 times before leaving with his sibling to join Montpellier.
4. Steven Sykes
Steven Sykes only featured in a Sharks jersey for the first few years of the decade but by the time the 2010 Super Rugby competition got under way, he was a firmly established lock. His consistency and work rate were enormous, while he became one of the leaders in the Sharks group. Sykes was fortunate not to struggle with many injuries while playing his rugby in Durban and had a big influence on the younger players in the team. Since he left the union on a permanent basis in 2013, the Sharks have slightly struggled to find that sort of consistency again in the No 4 position.
5. Pieter-Steph du Toit
The 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year first made a name for himself while playing his rugby at the Sharks in the lock position. Du Toit joined the union’s youth structures after school and immediately impressed his coaches. In 2012, after winning the Junior World Cup with the Junior Springboks, Du Toit made his Currie Cup debut for the Sharks. He was instrumental in their winning the Currie Cup in 2013, which led to his first Springbok call-up under then coach Heyneke Meyer for the end-of-year tour. He eventually departed for the Stormers ahead of the 2016 Super Ruby season.
6. Marcell Coetzee
Having also come through the ranks at the Sharks, Coetzee was destined to become a great rugby player for the union and even the Springboks. The flank had everything in his game to make the perfect loose forward. His tackling, fetching, ball-carrying and even his offloading made him a really difficult player to play against. His rise through the Sharks ranks and into the Springbok starting lineup for the 2012 Tri-Nations was incredible, but injuries halted his further growth as a player. He left for Ulster in 2016 where injuries have bugged him even more.
7. Willem Alberts
Alberts was one the real strongmen of South African rugby this decade – absolutely devastating while carrying the ball. His physical dominance over opposition teams really gave a Sharks team the edge in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup and, along with a few other players, he really made it difficult for teams to get the better of their forward pack. His performances for the Sharks eventually earned him a place in the Springbok team of 2010, where he continued to terrorise other teams with storming runs and big hits.
8. Ryan Kankowski
Kankowski was one of the first modern-day No 8s in South African rugby and completely changed the way teams set up to play against the Sharks because of his athleticism and versatility. Kankowski was almost like an extra back in the Sharks team and ran lines like a proper outside centre. He wore the Sharks’ jersey on more than 150 occasions before signing a permanent deal in Japan in 2015.
9. Cobus Reinach
Cobus Reinach was a revelation for the Sharks for the majority of the decade at scrumhalf. He produced one of the best individual performances ever by a South African player against the Crusaders in Christchurch, when the Sharks pulled off a miracle victory over the New Zealanders in 2014 despite playing with 14 men for the majority of the match. Reinach scored a try that turned the game into the Sharks’ favour, while a year later he was playing for the Springboks and continued to shine for both his union and country. It’s unfortunate that he left for Northampton Saints in the prime of his Sharks career in 2017.
10. Pat Lambie
Probably the most talented player to come out of the Sharks set-up this decade. Lambie made his Super Rugby debut in 2010 and who will ever forget that memorable Currie Cup final in the same year against Western Province at Kings Park where he got the better of Schalk Burger to score that famous try? This, of course, earned him his first Springbok call-up. It’s unfortunate that his career was shortened by so many injuries and that he was forced to retire at the beginning of the year; it could’ve meant an even longer spell at the Sharks and Springboks.
11. Odwa Ndungane
A stalwart of rugby in Natal the last decade. A player who always gave 100% on the field and became legendary as the decade wore on. With a Sharks career that spanned over 12 years, Ndungane went on to play 135 Super Rugby games in the black-and-white shirt, while he made 107 appearances in the Currie Cup before eventually calling time on his career in 2017.
12. Frans Steyn
After spending more than two years in France where he played for Racing Metro 92 in the Top 14, Steyn returned to Durban to join up with the Sharks on a three-year deal towards the end the 2012 Super Rugby season. Despite struggling with form at the start of the 2013 Vodacom Super Rugby competition, Steyn was named captain of the team for the start of their campaign in the absence of the injured Keegan Daniel. His performances started to get better as the season progressed before he helped the Sharks to win the Currie Cup in 2013 after beating Western Province in the final. It was unfortunate that his second stint at the Sharks was overshadowed by a lot of injuries and in 2014 he joined Japanese outfit Toshiba Brave Lupus.
13. Paul Jordaan
Another very talented player who joined the Sharks and took his rugby playing ability to a new level. Many wanted him in the Springbok squad after the 2013 Super Rugby season due to his speed and explosiveness on attack. Jordaan possessed every ingredient of becoming a world-class outside centre but unfortunately a string of injuries halted his rise up the ladder. He represented the Sharks between 2011 and 2016 in all competitions before joining French outfit La Rochelle.
14. JP Pietersen
Another Natal great, who gave his everything for the Sharks over a very long period of time. JP Pietersen became one of the best Springboks wings because of his growth as a player at the Sharks. His try-scoring ability and excellence on attack have reaped many rewards. He returned to the union before this year’s Currie Cup to act as a player and mentor in the team and to help with the preparation of the Super Rugby team. After all the years of playing for the Sharks a coaching role at one of the younger teams now awaits.
15. Louis Ludik
He may well have only played for the Sharks from 2010 to 2013, but Louis Ludik was as solid at fullback as there’s been in recent years in South Africa. He was never deemed good enough to get the call-up to the national team, but domestically he had a real influence on the Sharks team. His try in the 2012 Super Rugby semi-final against the Stormers at Newlands ultimately sent the Sharks on their way to the final, while a year later he broke Capetonian hearts again as he helped the Sharks lift the Currie Cup in the Mother City. He’s been playing at Ulster since 2014 and have brought the Irish team just as much stability and success.