How are the Silver Ferns shaping up?
The Ferns' defence end is back to full strength with the return of Casey Williams, who sat out the end of the 2011 season as she recovered from minor ankle surgery. Likewise, their shooting end is looking strong with Irene van Dyk the stand-out shooter of the 2012 ANZ Championship, and proven performers in Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu. They have lost some variety with Magic goal attack Julianna Naoupu unavailable for this series as she rests her weary knees, but the experienced Jodi Brown should offer strong cover.
It's the midcourt that is the concern for coach Wai Taumaunu. Having lost 188 caps of court sense from that area through the unavailability of Joline Henry (pregnant) and Liana Leota (overseas) and retirement of Temepara George, there is a huge experience deficit in the middle. The only player remaining in the midcourt from last year's world championships is Laura Langman.
But hey, Langman carried the Magic midcourt all year - perhaps she can do the same in the test arena as well.
What about those Aussies?
Australian coach Lisa Alexander has picked a fairly conservative squad of 15 for the international season, with the game-day 12 to be named before each test.
The big omission from last season is Susan Fuhrmann, although given the 1.96m defender's form in this year, it was hardly a huge surprise.
A few of the stars of the team have had mixed ANZ campaigns - captain Natalie von Bertouch struggled with injuries at both ends of the season; Cath Cox's accuracy took a nosedive with the move out to goal attack at the Fever; and defender Laura Geitz has not been at her dominant best this year with the Firebirds. But all three are expected to be a different proposition in the yellow dress.
Where the Diamonds have a massive edge over the Ferns is in their midcourt, with the likes of von Bertouch, Kim Green, Mo'onia Gerrard and the in-form Madison Browne providing Alexander with some very strong options.
Who are the new faces to look out for?
With some rather large gaps to fill in the midcourt, relative newcomers Camilla Lees (3 caps) and Kayla Cullen (5 caps) will likely be thrust in to the New Zealand starting line-up for this series. But all the intrigue really surrounds mystery newcomer Bailey Mes - a converted shooter who won her place in the Ferns midcourt after impressing at last month's trials. Taumaunu hopes to get the 1.86m wing attack out on court at some point during the series.
The only real newbie in the Australian team is athletic centre Ashleigh Brazill, who has thrived this season with regular court time at the Fever.
What else is new?
The uniforms. The Ferns have a new clothing supplier in Canterbury this year, which means new little black dresses for the team. It also means goodbye to the three-stripes down the back, which some had rather unkindly suggested made them look like roadkill.
Alexander has hinted her side have been working on some new attacking structures to combat the wily and well-established New Zealand defensive combinations.
What do the stats tell us?
The head-to-head stats paint a grim picture from the Ferns' perspective. Not only are New Zealand yet to lift the Constellation Cup in the first two seasons the prize has been on offer, they haven't won a test series against Australia in eight years. But such is the competitiveness between the two sides that each match is a 50-50 proposition. Which team has the edge usually comes down to the intangibles like confidence, momentum and who has the prettiest nail polish.
Ferns look for Magic touch
Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams hopes the lessons learned during the Magic's unlikely title-winning run through this year's ANZ Championship will carry over into the international arena.
Sunday's opening Constellation Cup clash against Australia in Melbourne will see Williams return to the court where, eight weeks ago, she and her Magic teammates edged out the Vixens to lift the ANZ trophy.
The tense, three-goal win came after two earlier close-run playoff wins over the Thunderbirds and Mystics, earning the Magic the reputation as the most resilient team in the competition.
Now Williams hopes to take that new-found harder edge to the international arena.
"It really gave us the confidence that when the game does get really tight and comes down to those little moments, that we can pull through.
"And I think that if me, Laura [Langman] and Irene [van Dyk] can instil that sort of culture into the Ferns and share what we learned from those experiences, it will really help in this series," Williams said. After an enforced rest following last year's world championships, the 27-year-old still felt "pretty low" watching from the sidelines and says she can't wait to test herself against the Australians.
Silver Ferns v Australia
Sept 16: Hisense Arena, Melbourne
Sept 20: Vector Arena, Auckland
Sept 23: CBS Canterbury Arena, Christchurch
Silver Ferns: Casey Williams (c), Jodi Brown, Kayla Cullen, Leana de Bruin, Katrina Grant, Anna Harrison, Laura Langman, Cathrine Latu, Camilla Lees, Bailey Mes, Maria Tutaia, Irene van Dyk.