After three long, arduous, rugby-less months, tomorrow (Friday) finally marks the return of Premiership rugby as Sale travel to Newcastle for a Northern curtain raiser. But before the season proper gets underway, there's still time for a final summer-time mailbag as we run a cursory eye over Sale Sharks ahead of their 2016-17 campaign.
With this new-look Sale squad yet to play a single minute of meaningful rugby this is of course, nigh on impossible to answer. But from the buzz around Carrington and the limited pre-season action available to dissect I think this question has two possible answers.
The first is AJ MacGinty. Everybody I've spoken to at Sale has waxed lyrical about the American fly-half since he joined up with the squad in July, and although he's unlikely to replicate the attacking genius that his predecessor Danny Cipriani spoiled us with, MacGinty's contrasting style of play which in truth, better suits Sale's collective abrasive, hard-nosed approach, along with his probable superior kicking percentages make him an obvious candidate to emerge as a star signing.
My other suggestion is Josh Charnley. In a summer where Sale lost two of their most prestigious 'star' talents in Cipriani and Tommy Taylor and instead opted to focus mainly on building squad depth and affording the coaching staff a plethora of options at each position, Charnley stands out as the recruit with the most decisive game-changing ability. I'm not expecting Charnley to join up with the squad at Christmas and immediately become Chris Ashton 2.0 but with the added depth around him offering a platform to shine, Charnley could rapidly emerge as Sale's newest star attraction.
1. Saracens - the best team in Europe last season and they haven't suffered any meaningful subtractions. Should reign supreme again.
2. Leicester - Added some world-class backline talent to go with a diverse and talented pack. Could make the biggest jump in the League this season.
4. Wasps - Charles Piutau and George Smith were the Premiership's two biggest loses over the summer and signing a second backline won't cover some subtantial defensive frailities.
6. Sale - A realistic prediction. Another top-six finish this season combined with some additional investment and Sale will be back in the top-four with a season.
10. Newcastle - Quietly amassed an intriguing collection of players. Return of Sinoti Sinoti will be huge.
11. Worcester - Loss of Dean Ryan so close to the new season will impede any potential progress up the table.
12. Bristol - For all their money, haven't made enough of a splash over the summer to suggest they're definitely avoiding the drop.
Sale's weakest area is probably the second row and I'm thinking long-term. Let's have Maro Itoje to anchor the scrum for the next 15 years.
If the new ownership can back up their ambitious plans with a ready supply of cash to lure the world-class quality in positions that the academy cannot produce, Sale could very well be back in the top-four next season and challenging for the title again by 2018-19. But that's in a perfect world. Steady improvement season-on-season above and beyond the European qualification benchmark (6th to 5th to 4th etc.) is what the focus should be for the next two or three seasons.
1. Mike Haley - impressed for the Saxons in an area where England are currently weak.
2. Josh Beaumont - inclusion in the Six Nations squad suggests his time is close.
3. Sam James
4. Tommy Taylor
5. Ross Harrison
6. Cameron Neild - needs a couple of seasons in a fixed position at club level before international recognition beckons.
7. Will Addison - A victim of England's depth on the wings.
8.Danny Cipriani - Unfortunately, with his international isolation continuing under Eddie Jones, I think his time has passed.
Top-six again this year would, in my mind at least, be another fantastic achievement given the individual losses sustained earlier this year. A second consecutive year of Champions Cup Rugby would also put Sale in a fantastic position to really push up the table in 2017-18 and helped to attract a big name or two to take them to the next level
Despite all the positivity surrounding the surprise pre-emptive extensions of Mike Haley, Josh Beaumont, Cameron Neild etc. over the last month or so the silence surrounding Will Addison would appear to be ominous. After all, why would Addison not have bought in to the same vision that has enticed so many of his fellow English stalwarts?
However it is worth remembering what a unique situation this is for all parties. Last season, with Addison out of contract at the end of the year, it took until February - six weeks after the opening of the so-called 'transfer window' - before the Cumbrian penned a new deal. In addition the length of the extension was not disclosed by either player nor club and whilst most of my pessimistic Shark-supporting brethren took this to mean he had only signed on for one additional season (2016-17) it could very well emerge he is actually under contract for longer (akin to Andrei Ostrikov a few years ago) thus alleviating any pressure on signing the 24-year-old to a long-term deal even before the newest season has even begun.
That said, Addison's omission from the multiplicity of August extensions is a touch surprising given his apparent importance to the club, but let's not forget just how early on in the season it yet remains. Ross Harrison - another member of Sale's young English contingent - is likewise yet to commit his long-term future to Sale. Perhaps negotiations are being delayed to sustain a steady supply of positive news and soundbites, or perhaps Dimes and co. are reluctant to hand Addison a three-year, big-money deal given his tumultuous and unfortunate injury history and want to see him remain able to maintain his fitness and form as he did to such pleasing effect last season. The time to panic is not yet at hand.