With six games (four Premiership and two European Challenge Cup ties) already in the books, we find ourselves roughly a fifth of the way through this deferred 2015/16 season. Sale currently sit a comfortable 7th in the league whilst an impressive bonus point win over Pau at the weekend has seen them move into a three-way tie for first place in their Challenge Cup pool. A winning percentage of 50% in all competitions so far means it would be unfair to say the Sharks have stumbled out of the blocks, although the first six weeks have also shown that this iteration of the club still has ways to go before we can safely regard them as 'firing on all cylinders'. But which members of the club have particularly stood out during the first batch of this season's games? Here I offer four candidates, some already in the limelight and some a little less heralded, deserving of special mention for their efforts in driving Sale forward to start the season.
Coming off the back of an impressive World Cup campaign with Samoa, TJ Ioane - who only arrived at the club in January mind - used an early-season injury to David Seymour to propel himself into Sale's starting lineup and entrench himself as the Sharks' form flanker, no easy task considering the wealth of talent Sale possess at the position.
Although we saw flashes of it in limited appearances at the end of last season, Ioane's reputation as a energetic and ferocious ball-carrier and as something of a breakdown merchant has been vindicated with a number of exemplarily performances in the season's early-going, including a man-of-the-match display in the loss to Harlequins earlier this month.
Indeed the Samoan has often served as a spark-plug to Sale's offence this year, his devil-may-care carrying style and fervent approach to tackling acting as the catalyst for generating forward momentum for the team regardless of whether he's starting or coming off the bench. In addition Ioane is often the first out of the Sharks' defensive line in preparation for a tackle using his impressive foot speed to cut down the gap between himself and the ball-carrier, whilst the former Otago man has single-handily won a number of crucial turnovers on Sale's try-line showing his capability to thrive within the 'fetcher' role.
A bit of an unknown quantity coming into this season, TJ's imposing performances when given chances in the first team have seem him deservedly earn the starting open-side flanker shirt, one that David Seymour and Magnus Lund will struggle to usurp so long as the Samoan continues his coruscating form.
Injuries have allowed another player to make his case for a larger role within the Sale first team - loosehead prop James Flynn. With Eifon Lewis-Roberts going down with an ankle injury during preseason, the 22-year-old Flynn has seen opportunity arise in the form of backing up current incumbent Ross Harrison on the bench.
And whilst Harrison has seemed to struggle with shoulder/binding issues this season, Flynn has formed 1/3 of a surprisingly dominant replacement scrumming trio with Neil Briggs and Brian Mujati who have helped Sale win three scrums against the head this year.
More assured and powerful on his side of the scrum, Flynn has also shown excellent mobility around the park - including an eye for the try-line - and despite his minutes being carefully protected by Diamond (rarely seeing more than 10 minutes in lieu of Harrison in the Premiership), Flynn has certainly put his hand up for greater consideration and extended gametime even when Lewis-Roberts eventually returns.
To call Sale's transfer activities in preparation for the 2015/16 campaign underwhelming is both an understatement and well-traversed ground. The admittedly low-key and modest nature of the additions to the Sharks squad therefore - especially in relation to their wealthier rivals - has given added impetus to the players they did bring in to come in and be immediate difference-makers.
The seamless nature of his transition from outsider to key first team starter has allowed him to fly under the radar slightly, but in only six games Bryn Evans looks already set to join the growing list of astute signings made by Steve Diamond since the latter's return to the club in 2011.
Though by no means the type of physical specimen that is coming to dominate the modern second row (he says referring to a 6 ft 5 in, 18 stone lock and acknowledging the relativeness of it all) Evans has served as an almost pound-for-pound replacement for Michael Paterson, succeeding his Kiwi countryman as Sale's primary lineout option and as a pleasantly surprising fleet of foot, mobile lock capable of moving around the park on both sides of the ball. Perhaps lacking slightly the scrummaging power of say a Nathan Hines or an Andrei Ostrikov, Evans' mobility and decisiveness in the air have more than made up for such attributes especially when paired with Jonathan Mills in the second row.
It was unfair to expect Evans to come in cold and replace both the departing Hines and Paterson, and the quiet and efficient manner in which the former All Black goes about his game has seen some fans critical of his impact in a Sale shirt so far. But Evans has been exactly what Sale needed after losing two influential locks in one fell swoop - a consistent and effective performer in the loose and the set-piece that has allowed Sale's formidable forwards machine to keep rumbling onwards. There is no clearer indicator of the immediate value Evans has brought to the Sharks than the fact he leads the team in minutes played this season (400, tied with Mike Haley) and in every one of the games he's featured in - five - he has played the full 80 minutes.
The current talk of the town, 21-year-old Sam James is the latest product of the notorious Sharks academy to burst onto the professional rugby scene, in a similar vein to how Mike Haley and Josh Beaumont emerged for Sale last year. A messiah for fans who have long lamented the 'bosh brothers' centre combination of Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota, James has thrust himself into the limelight with a series of captivating displays at outside centre where his handling, passing, and creativity have been on full display including against Northampton where he scored this unbelievable solo effort:
Most exciting for those watching the Wimslow-born centre/fly-half however is the complete package of skills he seems to possess and the potential flexibility Sale have in deploying James anywhere along the 10-12-13 axis.
Standing at 6 ft 5 in tall, James has a combination of strength and pace unmatched by anybody in the Sale squad not called Beaumont, which he made apparent with three scintillating line breaks and a close-range try against Harlequins earlier this month. Yet its James' less obvious ability to pass and read the defence in front of them that has seen many, including David Flatman, earmark him as a future international 13, and is something that was noticeable from the first game of the season where James' superb decision-making was one of few bright spots in a losing effort at Saracens.
Having a second creative pivot in the midfield is currently one of the most effective trends sweeping both domestic and international rugby, and James' emergence not only gives Sale a more-nuanced and innovative option in the midfield to create attacking opportunities from the gaps left by the power and grunt of either Tuitupou or Leota playing at inside centre, but also lessens the pressure on Danny Cipriani to generate each of Sale's line-breaks.
Diamond showed last season he was happy to let the form players in Beaumont and Haley usurp their more established and experienced teammates, and if James continues on his current form (he scored a try for the third consecutive match against Pau on Saturday), the next piece of Sale's growing English dynasty will fall into place sooner rather than later.