With pre-season training fully underway, the Premiership fixture list confirmed and the transfer market all but shut (save perhaps, maybe, potentially for one ex-Bath centre) the clock has begun rapidly ticking down to the beginning of the new Premiership and European seasons.
Ahead of a new campaign which will see Sale Sharks attempt to replicate last season's top-six heroics, The Shark Tank analyses the personnel moves made by Steve Diamond for the upcoming 2016/17 season in order to assess whether Sale, as a squad, are in a stronger or weaker position than they were this time last year.
Sale are in a particularly fortunate position heading into the new season as they possess a gaudy collection of young English talent, already integrated into the first team, which will inevitably see individual improvement as their development continues with additional game-time.
Therefore we can already except to see a net benefit for the squad in 2016/17 as the likes of Cameron Neild, Sam James, Mike Haley, Ross Harrison, Josh Beaumont, Will Addison and many others will be a season closer to reaching their prime potential.
But beyond this spine of academy produce, have the Sharks been able to improve as a collective and once again position themselves to make a run at the top-six (and maybe even the top-four), or will they fall prey to the ever-increasing competitiveness of the English Premiership and fall back into the lower-mid table?
Of course it is impossible to know at such an early stage whether, for example, Mike Phillips definitely constitutes an upgrade over Chris Cusiter and we must acknowledge that certain players may (or may not) fit the particular setup at Sale better than others. But knowing what we broadly know about the players who have joined and left Sale over the previous six months, we can form an approximate conclusion on the current state of the Sharks first team. So let's investigate.
Ins and Outs
First, let us remind ourselves of the ins and outs of the 2016/17 Sale Sharks. A comprehensive list of transactions can be found here.