With the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises naming their squads today, APNZ looks at how each side stands heading into the 2013 season.
The lowdown: The feature of the Blues in 2013 is newness. New coaches, 16 new players and renewed optimism. Sir John Kirwan has assembled a young and inexperienced squad but he didn't have much choice than to start afresh after the disaster of 2012. It will take some time to take the squad from promising to polished but Kirwan is hoping he can bring the sort of transformation that Jamie Joseph and Mark Hammett brought to the Highlanders and Hurricanes respectively.
Key signing: It's a struggle to identify one. There are 16 new players - 11 will be new to Super Rugby - and most of them are virtual unknowns. A lot will hinge on new first-fives Chris Noakes and Baden Kerr. Loose forward Brendon O'Connor has the chance to establish himself now he's out of the shadow of Richie McCaw and Matt Todd, and lock Culum Retallick could become a central figure if Anthony Boric and Ali Williams continue to struggle with injury.
Key loss: Ma'a Nonu might not have had a great season for the Blues in 2012 (who did?) but he is still one of the best midfield backs in world rugby. He's exercised an out-clause in his contract to join the Highlanders, where prop Tony Woodcock has also gone.
Forwards: Kane Barrett, Anthony Boric, Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Quentin MacDonald, Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, Liaki Moli, Brendon O'Connor, James Parsons, Tim Perry, Ronald Raaymakers, Culum Retallick, Peter Saili, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ali Williams.
Backs: Malakai Fekitoa, Jamison Gibson-Park, Frank Halai, Bryn Hall, Baden Kerr, Marty McKenzie, George Moala, Waisake Naholo, Chris Noakes, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Piri Weepu, Jackson Willison.
The lowdown: The Chiefs will have a familiar look to them in 2013, with most of the squad that won them their first title returning. They have five current All Blacks and seven others will tour with the New Zealand Maori and utility back Richard Kahui will also return from injury. The Chiefs won on the back of a mixture of forward grunt, good defence and enterprising backs and there's little need to change a winning formula.
Key signing: Coach Dave Rennie has tweaked the squad rather than gone for any great overhaul and brought in players such as Gareth Anscombe, Nick Crosswell, Ross Filipo and Charlie Ngatai who will add depth.
Key loss: Sonny Bill Williams stopped into Hamilton for one season on his sporting odyssey and helped deliver a Super Rugby title. He's since packed up his boots and headed to Japan and will next stop off in Australia to return to the NRL. SBW established himself as a genuinely good rugby player in 2012 and his outrageous offloads and strong defence will be missed.
Forwards: Ben Afeaki, Sam Cane, Craig Clarke, Nick Crosswell, Hikawera Elliot, Ross Filipo, Mike Fitzgerald, Romana Graham, Josh Hohneck, Tanerau Latimer, Fritz Lee, Rhys Marshall, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith, Solomona Sakalia, Ben Tameifuna
Backs: Bundee Aki, Gareth Anscombe, Aaron Cruden, Andrew Horrell, Richard Kahui, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brendon Leonard, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Patrick Osborne, Augustine Pulu, Robbie Robinson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
The lowdown: The Crusaders again have a strong Canterbury flavour, a fitting reward for the team's exploits in winning the national provincial title for the fifth year running. Whether the additions of six Canterbury players result in a first Super title since 2008 remains to be seen, however. Todd Blackadder will miss Richie McCaw for the majority of the season due to the All Blacks captain's sabbatical. As always the Crusaders have a squad which suggests they will be competitive and they should make the business end of the competition. Blackadder's major job this season, though, is getting the best out of his top players such as Dan Carter and Israel Dagg. The appointment of his attacks coach will also be crucial in this area following Daryl Gibson's demotion and subsequent resignation.
Key signing: Blackadder hasn't signed any established players, but Canterbury loose forward Jordan Taufua, on loan to Tasman for most of the ITM Cup, and Johnny McNicholl, are exciting prospects. Taufua will have an important role in covering for Kieran Read, Matt Todd and George Whitelock, while wing McNicholl, a prolific try-scorer in the ITM Cup for Canterbury, will get plenty of game time following Sean Maitland's exit to Glasgow.
Key loss: Two big losses here - All Blacks McCaw and Ben Franks. McCaw will cool his heels after a hectic last couple of years and there is still a big question as to whether he will even turn out for the Crusaders next season. Prop Franks has moved to the Hurricanes for more game time, with the Crusaders only two established props now Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks.
Forwards: Dominic Bird, Shane Christie, Wyatt Crockett, Tom Donnelly, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Nepo Laulala, Richie McCaw, Joe Moody, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Jimmy Tupou, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock.
Backs: Tyler Bleyendaal, Dan Carter, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Robbie Fruean, Zac Guildford, Willi Heinz, Tom Marshall, Johnny McNicholl, Jeremy Su'a, Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock.
The lowdown: Not long ago, few top-line players wanted to venture south to the Highlanders but coach Jamie Joseph is assembling a side with a considerable black tinge to it. He has 11 past or present All Blacks in his squad and success will presumably only breed success. The new indoor stadium has helped but so has Joseph's return to traditional southern values of hard work and honesty. His squad has more depth than the past couple of years and should be able to cope better with the demands of the competition.
Key signing: The additions of All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock will make a considerable difference but perhaps the most significant addition is Brad Thorn. The 37-year-old World Cup-winning lock shows few signs of slowing down and his professional can only rub off on his new teammates.
Key loss: Adam Thomson remained loyal throughout his Highlanders career and it's a shame now he's decided to leave with the franchise holding so much potential. They have decent loose forwards but Thomson's presence would have made them even better.
Forwards: Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys, Liam Coltman, Elliot Dixon, Ma'afu Fia, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Andrew Hore, Chris King, Jamie Mackintosh, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Jake Paringatai, Brad Thorn, Joe Wheeler, Tony Woodcock.
Backs: Phil Burleigh, Tamati Ellison, Jason Emery, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu, Declan O'Donnell, Kade Poki, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoali'i, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby.
The lowdown: After a period of considerable change in 2011, as coach Mark Hammett cleared the decks, stability is now the main feature. As many as 24 players who were fully contracted last season return and others like the immensely promising Ardie Savea step up from the region.
Key signing: Ben Franks went looking for a change from the Crusaders and had an option to head to the Highlanders but settled on the Hurricanes instead. He will add more grunt to a front row which has the services of two talented hookers in Dane Coles and Motu Matu'u and props Reggie Goodes and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen.
Key loss: The Hurricanes haven't lost anyone of note. Midfield back Charlie Ngatai has opted to join the Chiefs where he will provide cover in the midfield backs.
Forwards: James Broadhurst, Dane Coles, Jason Eaton, Ben Franks, Reggie Goodes, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Karl Lowe, Motu Matu'u, Ben May, Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Eric Sione, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Victor Vito.
Backs: Beauden Barrett, Tim Bateman, Samisoni Fisilau, Cory Jane, Rey Lee-Lo, Alapati Leuia, James Marshall, TJ Perenara, Tusi Pisi, Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Chris Smylie, Andre Taylor