Captain Ahab’s relentless pursuit of Moby Dick the White Whale is summarized by the theme of obsession and its propensity for clouding ones judgment especially ‘in the heat of battle’, Ahab’s character imbalance of those two themes is ultimately what takes him to Davey Jones locker. However for the Sharks Super Rugby playing group it is this very balance of obsession and instead – clearing ones judgment that will determine if they are to reach the finals of Super Rugby this year.
The Sharks have begun their Super Rugby season in style with two consecutive bonus point wins, albeit against opposition they would be targeting maximum points in preseason. The critical aspect is this year, they’ve achieved it. Whilst the margin for victory on paper has been impressive, the enterprise, confidence and fledgling game management the Sharks are showcasing bodes well for a possible tilt at finals glory come the end of the season.
Many Sharks seasons have begun in similar fashion, confidence is raised within the playing group and of course ardent fans begin to have an air of expectation. Only to be dashed by inexplicable losses of form during the regular season, carrying with it the consequences of playing finals rugby away from home.
The Sharks have a rich history of finals in the late nineties, and early 2000’s, playing in four yet carrying the infamy of losing all four. An imaginary weight begins to lurk over clubs whom reach the peaks of their sporting code yet cannot make the final summit, the grand finale of mental hurdles – winning trophies.
The sports pantheon is littered with teams searching for their respective White Whale, Liverpool and their drought for the English premier League title, the Dallas Cowboys twenty year wait for a Superbowl victory and the South African cricket teams eternal search for World Cup glory to name but a few.
The Sharks in four finals have only played one at Kings Park or in the Republic in (2007), in a competition as geographically burdensome as Super Rugby winning any one of those three finals (Hamilton 2012 and Auckland 1996 in New Zealand, Canberra in Australia 2001) would have been quite frankly, nothing short of Herculean. The key to having any chance of Super Rugby silverware is to be playing at home in the playoffs for as long as possible, the Bulls team that won in 2007 would go onto to claim another two titles in 2009 and 2010 playing at home.
The Sharks class of 2019 are only two games into the regular season and far sterner tests await them but the team seems to have a focus about how they want to dictate their game plan. They are varying their play across the field, using the heavy hitting forwards to make yards in close or wider channels, the backline has benefited immensely from this. Coming from deep and running onto the ball has allowed the Sharks space and time to be a more cohesive and effective attacking threat in all departments.
Nick Easter former England number 8 now the Sharks forward coach is already leaving his signature on the pack of forwards, merging their famous physical presence with swift pop passes to available runners in close spaces to the rucks.
Dan Du Preez at number 8 has shown usual powerful edge in the carrier, yet he has also shown real intelligence and maturity with his offloading capabilities. Hooker, Akker Van Der Merwe has been superb in general play and at the back of the lineout controlling the driving mauls. His lineout throwing is still a work on but will progress throughout the season as he and his jumpers become more familiar and are able to adjust as a unit better during game time.
Lukhanyo Am at outside center in particular has been in scandalous form, his distribution and most importantly coupled with that, his decision making in getting Springbok speedster Sbu Nkosi and Makazolo Mapimpi into space has had a devastating effect thus far. Flyhalf Rob Du Preez has a steadier influence about him this season, not only is he kicking his goals but also critically managing the game in terms of the ebb and flow of the contest, knowing when to kick, pass or run.
The Sharks certainly have the firepower upfront and guile out wide to make it to the playoffs of Super Rugby. If they can merge a healthy obsession and insure finals rugby is played at Kings Park, they could go all the way and catch their White Whale.
Written by Brandon Going