Cape Town - 2007 World cup-winning Springbok flyhalf Butch James has been pleasantly surprised by the Sharks' start to the 2020 Super Rugby season.
A rugby legend in KwaZulu-Natal, the former Maritzburg College playmaker represented the Sharks from 2000-2007 and then again in 2013 and was a fan favourite at Kings Park during that time.
With his family having only recently relocated from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, James has always had close ties to the Sharks.
A 38-22 loss to the Hurricanes last weekend was far from ideal, but before that the Sharks had notched up victories over the Bulls (23-15) at home in week one and then the Highlanders (42-20) in a stunning performance in Dunedin.
"They've played way better than I thought they were going to go," James told Sport24 at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin this week.
"They've obviously got a really exciting backline, but the forwards have stood up.
"I was a bit worried about their tight five, but I think Ox Nche has been an unbelievable acquisition and I don't think they've lost anything with the loss of Beast (Mtawarira)."
One of the noticeable absentees from the Sharks' starting line-up for the Hurricanes clash was flyhalf Curwin Bosch, who returned to South Africa to mourn the passing of his mother.
Bosch is back in the side for this Saturday's clash against the Rebels in Melbourne, though, and James believes it is a crucial season for the 22-year-old.
Bosch has two Test caps to his name, the last of which came in Rassie Erasmus' first match as Bok coach against Wales in Washington in 2018.
Under former Sharks coach Robert du Preez he was often played either off the bench or at fullback as Du Preez's son, Robert du Preez Jnr, was backed at No 10.
Under the new leadership of Sean Everitt, however, Bosch has been told that he will be the first-choice flyhalf at the Sharks in 2020.
With Handre Pollard currently based at Montpellier in France and comfortably the first-choice Springbok flyhalf, Bosch is in a battle against Elton Jantjies (Lions) and Damian Willemse (Stormers) in a battle for the back-up position.
James, who played 42 Test matches, has no doubt over Bosch's ability but says that it is now time for him to step up and make a play for higher honours.
"He's a brilliant rugby player, but this is the season where he needs to put his hand up and say he also wants to wear that No 10 jersey," James said.
"There is a lot of competition.
"Elton had a brilliant game now on the weekend (against the Stormers), so he's still saying he wants to be there and Damian is also very exciting with a lot of potential to one day even take over from Handre.
"For Curwin, it's time for him to show everyone what he's got, put his hand up and have a good season.
"I'm sure he's going to battle the next couple of weeks with the passing of his mom."
James is optimistic about the Sharks' chances of success in 2020, but he says that the forwards staying for and effective will be key.
"It is going to depend on their depth and if they can manage to keep all those forwards together and get that backline some good ball, because that backline is unbelievable," he said.
Kick-off in Melbourne on Saturday is at 05:45 (SA time).
15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Andrew Deegan, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Steven Misa, 1 Matt Gibbon
Substitutes: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Rob Leota, 22 Frank Lomani, 23 Tom English
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Andre Esterhuizen (captain), 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo