Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel believes his team have come through the pre-season challenges with flying colours and are primmed and ready to tackle the Bulls on Friday.
Daniel will captain the Sharks for the first time in Super Rugby, having guided the team to the Currie Cup final last year in his first stint as skipper.
"It's been a great off-season, probably one of the toughest I've had since I've been here [in Durban]," Daniel told the media.
"The way the game is going, the way the game is played and with new laws, you need an ultimate level of fitness, week in and week out.
"That's something we've really concentrated on, spent time in the dojo, which was a good change for the boys, something different, it takes your mind off the usual running around the field for hours. The boys are looking in really good nick, you could see that in the way we played the warm-up games, the energy and the work they put in, so it's been a really good pre-season for us."
The 26-year-old is looking forward to his new challenges as leader and plans to work closely with vice-captain Bismarck du Plessis.
"Not much changes from last year [in the Currie Cup], I had the support of Stefan Terblanche and this year it's Bismarck du Plessis and some players who have been in the Springbok setup and with the Sharks for a few years, so it isn't an effort from me," he said.
"I'm a firm believer that each player is a leader in his own right, whether on or off the field and for me it's to guide them and make decisions when needed. Bismarck and I have played a lot together, we have a good relationship, will look to build it further in leading this team throughout the year."
Daniel expects the Bulls to present a tough challenge despite the departures of several of the Pretoria side's key players.
"I love playing at Loftus, it's one of my favourite grounds to play, the games we've played each other over the last couple of years have always been massive clashes," Daniel said.
"We can definitely expect a physical game, nothing too flash for first couple of minutes I'm sure, with some exchanges up front. They do have a younger, fresher look about them, but they have a really good culture, one built over a number of years."
Sharks coach John Plumtree thinks the Bulls have been very clever in their recruitment to fill the gaps left by the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Fourie du Preez.
"They have some really nice backs, they've recruited well," he explained. "I'm sure they will play with some width when they get an opportunity with fast ball, there will be a lots of collisions around the rucks to look after and driving mauls to look after, so I'm sure they will try wear us out up front so we will have to up for that."
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