JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 07: Pieter-Steph du Toit of the Sharks gets tackled by Willie Britz of the Lions during the Super Rugby Warm Up match between Lions and Cell C Sharks at Ellis Park on February 07, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images)

One of the real highlights of the 2013 edition of Super Rugby was the performance of the Cheetahs. Not too many people had given Naka Drotske’s team much chance of doing anything, yet they qualified for the play-offs and very nearly made the semi-finals.

Now I wonder whether they’ll be able to repeat that showing this year or whether someone else will prove to be the surprise package in 2014.

These are among the things rugby fans are asking themselves ahead of the start of Super Rugby this weekend. While I don’t think the Cheetahs will go all the way to the play-offs again, I do think we’ll pretty much see the same sides who have dominated the competition in the past three years or so continue to be the pacesetters.

Of the New Zealand teams it will again be the Crusaders and Chiefs who will be toughest to beat, while in Australia the Reds and Waratahs are seemingly still the strongest rugby regions, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Brumbies continue this season minus Jake White – which brings us to the South African teams.

With White at the helm, I truly believe this will be the Sharks’ year. The former Bok winning coach took a limited Brumbies side all the way to the final last year. Imagine what he could do with the current Sharks outfit. White may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he’s a fine coach and knows what’s required to win at every level of the game. And what a squad he’s got to work with!

I’d be shocked if the Sharks don’t put up a strong showing this season. In fact I’d be very disappointed if they don’t make the final.

The Stormers, as always, will be up there challenging, but for them to be successful they will need to get over the mental scars of coming so close in the past, just to miss out in the final weeks of competition. They will also need to be more adventurous with ball in hand. We know their defence will be strong, but scoring tries is the name of the game in Super Rugby.

While Bulls fans will be desperate for a strong showing, I fear it’s going to be a tough few months for the multiple former champions. Victor Matfield may or may not make a big difference up front, but I doubt Frans Ludeke has the squad to seriously take aim at a fourth title.

The Bulls are especially vulnerable at the back, as is the case with the Cheetahs, who will play their hearts out and cause a few upsets, but their squad isn’t strong enough.

It’s the same with the Lions, but they’re just far worse off than any other local side. There’s nothing about the Lions squad that says they’ll win more than they lose… so another tough few months lie ahead for them. - The Star