Following on from last week's look at Sale's optimum starting lineup from last season, this week The Shark Tank takes a prophetic look at the best all-round lineup the Sharks could field during the 2016-17 season.
Prophetic, in this instance, is the optimum word considering it is impossible to a) accurately forecast which players will impress and which will disappoint with their form next season and b) precisely account for the inevitable spate of injuries that affect every team's lineup over the course of the nine-month season.
That said, with the data available to us on ability, form, experience and the other determiners of a modern player's value to his team, we can make a reasonable precise estimate of who are the best twenty-three players Sale can field in the Premiership and the Champions Cup this coming season.
N.B. This is an assessment of the best all-round twenty-three man selection Sale can make for any fixture next season. As such, certain tactical decisions have had to be made which has meant the fifteen players selected in the starting lineup do not necessarily reflect the fifteen best players currently at the club.
Loosehead Prop - Ross Harrison
It would appear to be sink or swim time for Ross Harrison.
After I predicted 2015-16 to be the 23-year-old's breakout season, the Bolton-born prop appeared to struggle at the scrum against more technically astute tightheads and he was unable to entrench himself definitively as Sale's incumbent loosehead whilst Eifon Lewis-Roberts was out injured early in the season.
Now with James Flynn pushing hard on Harrison's heels for the #1 jersey and Lewis-Roberts likely approaching retirement at season's end, it is now vital Harrison can make that final step up and establish himself as Sale's long-term future at loosehead. Hopefully the experience of featuring on the England Saxons' tour to South Africa will provide that last push.
Hooker - Rob Webber
Tighthead Prop - Brian Mujati
Lock - Bryn Evans
Lock - Andrei Ostrikov
Despite Ostrikov having his most impressive season to date with Sale last year, this selection could still be dependent on who Sale recruit to replace the non-arrival of Juandre Kruger who was provisionally expected to take Ostrikov's starting place as one of the two Sharks locks next season.
Should Sale be able to acquire someone of comparable skill (and salary) to Kruger, the expectation is that the replacement of Ostrikov could still go ahead, especially since Bryn Evans proved himself untouchable in the second row last season.
Ostrikov will undoubtedly still feature prominently for Sale next season - particularly in Europe and during the winter months - but the decision to go out and acquire Kruger in the first place suggests Dimes is serious about strengthening the position of lock. Ultimately the calibre of talent brought in to replace Kruger will dictate whether Ostrikov seems more time in the starting lineup or on the replacements bench in 2016-17.
Openside Flanker - Laurence Pearce
Although I'd wager Cameron Neild is a slightly more versatile player than Pearce at this exact moment (especially due to the former's flexibility in switching between the front and back row) Pearce makes more sense in the Sharks' remodelled backrow.
Pearce gives Sale the imposing physical presence at flanker - both in the loose as a ball-carrier and at the back of the pack at scrum-time - that they've missed since Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and with Ioane handling jackaling duties (although Pearce is no slouch in that department) and Beaumont serving as the prominent ball-carrier, Pearce is able to roam around as something of a 'loose forward' - a role better suited for the eighteen-stone flanker than the smaller but quicker Neild.
Blindside Flanker - TJ Ioane
Number Eight - Josh Beaumont
Scrum-half - Peter Stringer
The difference in ability between Stringer and Mike Phillips is likely to be minimal at this stage of their respective careers so this is more a case of fit.
Whilst Phillips is by far the more physical of the two, Stringer's fast-paced, efficient distribution game is likely to garner him more starts at either end of the season when pitches are firmer and play as a result is quicker and more offensively-orientated.
Phillips' abrasive style will be particularly useful on softer pitches in winter and at the tail end of games against tiring defences, but Stringer is a more natural fit alongside fly-half AJ MacGinty who will desire to receive the ball perpetually at pace either to hit the line himself or to give the Irish-American more time to distribute the ball further along the line to his playmakers, akin to his role in Connacht's gameplan last season.
Fly-half - AJ MacGinty
Winger - Josh Charnley
Whether Charnley can match the gaudy heights of his league career playing union is still up in the air - after all for every Chris Ashton there is a Joel Tomkins - but there's no doubting the potential for Charnley in the fifteen-man code is massive.
If Chanrley's running, kicking and try-finishing abilities can make a seamless transition across codes, his physical attributes instantly make him at least the second best winger on the Sharks' roster (sorry Tom!)
Inside Centre - Sam Tuitupou
This might change should the long rumoured Kyle Eastmond deal come to fruition but as it stands, Sam Tuitupou offers the best all-round option for Sale at inside centre.
As a powerful defender and ball-carrier with the soft hands to help MacGinty spread the ball wide, he fills multiple functions in the backline.
Outside Centre - Sam James
Winger - Will Addison
Fullback - Mike Haley