An important aspect for any club, but especially so for one as relatively small and frugal as Sale Sharks, is the conveyor belt of talent into the first team squad from the club's Academy and A-League squad.
Therefore one pertinent question to ask before the season is who will be able to successfully jump from the Sale's feeder system into contention for the match-day 23.
Last season Sale were actually very lucky with the small amount of injuries sustained to their first-choice players and as a result of the down season they had prior to last year's campaign they were also able to avoid losing many to service in the international windows. Consequently, opportunities for youngsters to garner first-team experience were limited at best.
I doubt however that that's the case this season. Established players have been lost from the first-team (Peel, Gaskell etc.) and many of their replacements are current international representatives for their respective nations, (Di Marchi/McLean, Cusiter..) meaning during the Autumn Internationals and Six Nations, key members of the first team will be lost. In addition, Sale are part of the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup, the new top-tier of European domestic rugby which will cause their squad to be stretched further than in previous years. This season depth will be an absolute necessity and I believe this will translate into playing time for many of the Jets and Academy players.
So who benefits and who is ready to make the jump? I have detailed here who I think has a reasonable chance of accomplishing such a feat and I have them ranked in order of likely game-time.
Partly why I waited until after the weekend to write this piece is because I was hoping to digest the tape from the Premiership Rugby Sevens. Disappointingly, only one of the players I had in mind for this topic was involved although Mr Fowles' performance in Darlington did make it worth watching regardless.
I mentioned before that depth will be key for Sale this year, and Fowles as third-choice scrum-half should see plenty of game-time especially if Chris Cusiter is called up for Scotland as anticipated.
Fowles is modelled in the currently popular Danny Care-style of scrum-half; quick, athletic and attack-minded and many of Fowles' best qualities as both an attacking threat and distributor were on shown on Saturday as he ran in three tries as Captain of Sale's 7s team albeit in a losing effort. More importantly though, I observed a polished and a mature style to his game especially compared to his younger and much 'rawer' team-mates. I know that 7s is an incredibly different game to its 15-man 'older brother' but this is an encouraging development for someone who I perceive to be one of Sale's brightest talents on the cusp of the first-team.
Fowles is a really exciting talent and with Chris Cusiter likely to be away with Scotland for significant chunks of the season, look for Fowles to be getting 15-20 minutes behind Will Cliff in matches played in November and February/March and possibly starts in the LV Cup.
At only 19, Neild will be fast-tracked to the first-team out of necessity with the news that Tommy Taylor is out until Christmas and the release of Hooker Dan Baines.
Whether Sale are able to bring in another Hooker to use as cover for incumbent Marc Jones will also have a direct impact on Neild's playing time. Should they do so, Neild will be third-choice Hooker and see the field largely during the LV Cup and whenever else he is required for instance if Marc Jones goes down with injury. If Sale are not able to find cover however, Neild will likely be a member of the first 23 at least until Tommy Taylor is healthy.
It will be a big ask for Neild to be playing week-in, week-out for the Sale first team but with the success of other U20 graduates (Neild was part of England's U20 Junior World Cup squad in New Zealand this summer) such as Jack Nowell or Anthony Watson, it should serve as eminent experience.
Son of Rugby legend Bill, Josh Beaumont was only able to play 19 minutes for Sale's first team last season as a last-minute injury replacement for James Gaskell against London Wasps before he himself sustained a knee injury that ruled him out for the rest of the year.
In his three first-team appearances for Sale since 2012, Steve Diamond has utilised Beaumont as a No.8 despite his amateur background playing in the second-row. Beaumont's versatility however will see him feature much more predominately for Sale this year as cover for both the Second Row, Flanker and No.8
From what I have seen of him, I do not personally believe Beaumont has the hands or pace to be a fully-effective back-rower although I will concede that I have not seen nearly enough to make a fully-informed decision on his future position, Beaumont will make for excellent cover however, especially with Nathan Hines at 37 and the possibility that Michael Paterson is again called-up to the England squad and he makes for an excellent long-term prospect for Sale at whichever position he ends up.
Another Academy graduate, James Flynn made his debut for Sale back in 2012 and only saw action as a replacement in two Amlin Cup games last season.
Similar to Beaumont, I foresee Flynn getting game-time predominately with the Jets but also being used as cover at Loosehead Prop especially when Alberto Di Marchi is away with Italy. A few appearances in the LV and possibly as a replacement in the Premiership is expected.
With the signing of Magnus Lund, a lot of Andrew Hughes' likely playing time went "out of the window".
Lund (or Dave Seymour) will now provide most of Sale's cover at Flanker which will limit Hughes' opportunities greatly.
Hughes, 19, made three appearances for Sale Sharks last season, and a similar amount should be expected this time around as he will likely spend most of his season with the Jets to further aid his development.
Not dissimilar to Andrew Hughes, the signing of Luke McLean will greatly inhibit Mike Haley's chances in the first-team.
Haley is another prospect I personally rate highly but even with McLean's likely Italy call-ups, Fullback is one of Sale's strongest and deepest positions with Tom Arscott second-choice behind McLean and an (apparently) fully-fit Will Addison able to cover 15 as well. Haley likely spends a season with the Jets.
Encouragingly for Sale, there are a number of young players in the current academy system who are all on the cusp of the first-team and who are pushing for playing time.
I have no doubt that each player listed here will see some degree of playing-time with the first-team this season, injuries forbid.
However there are likely only two or three players who will see significant amounts of game-time with the first team squad this year; Nathan Fowles who is already third-choice scrum half and will be competing directly with Will Cliff for the No.9 shirt when Chris Cusiter is on international duty; Cameron Neild who will be required to cover Hooker across all competitions until Christmas at least and may be required more if Sale can not sign another Hooker and Josh Beaumont who will cover effectively all positions in the back-five of the scrum and look to make inroads for playing-time especially in the Second Row.
Have I missed anyone? Agree/Disagree with my projections? Leave a comment on our contact page or tweet us @SharkTankRugby.