The 2020 and 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa competitions gave New Zealand rugby fans plenty of insight about their own five franchises. But who's on the other side of the spectrum for the fast-approaching transtasman competition?
Here's a look at the five Australian sides, set to reignite a host of rivalries down-under.
2021 Super Rugby Australia finish: Runners-up
Coach: Dan McKellar
Notable players: Allan Alaalatoa, Pete Samu, James Slipper, Nic White
Opening fixture: at Crusaders, Saturday May 15, 7:05pm
The Australian side with the most storied past to back up their ambitions, the Brumbies will enter Super Rugby Transtasman with a heartbreaking injury-time loss to the Reds in the Super Rugby Australia final to stir up their competitive juices.
The Brumbies have been in contention for titles since the Sanzaar competition birthed in 1996, making their reconnection with New Zealand sides arguably the most enticing out of the five Australian franchises.
The Crusaders have the most storied rivalry with the Canberra-based side, with the teams contesting three finals in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Recent form bodes well for them too - aside from their domestic success over the last two years, the Brumbies went 5-1, which included a win over the in-form Chiefs in Hamilton, before the initial 2020 competition was suspended. They have an 80 per cent winning rate over the last 16 months.
The playing group boasts plenty of international experience, including skipper Allan Alaalatoa, who will go up against older brother and Crusaders prop Michael this weekend. New Zealand-born lock James Tucker is also on their roster, having played the majority of his career with Waikato prior to 2021.
Assistant coach Laurie Fisher has stated in the lead-up to their opening clash with the Crusaders his side is determined to stand up for Australian rugby despite their perceived lesser quality.
2021 Super Rugby Australia finish: Fourth
Coach: Kevin Foote (interim)
Notable Players: Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua
Opening fixture: vs Blues, Saturday May 15, 9:45pm
The youngest Australian side is yet to enjoy success, a harsh reality that was drilled in further with a three win, five loss account in this year's domestic competition.
You could argue however the Rebels' fate was sealed when they were forced out of Victoria due to Covid-19 prior to the season's kick-off.
Their struggles mirrored the first nine years of their existentce in the old format of Super Rugby, where they won just 31.6 per cent of games. Their best campaign came in 2020 when they finished third in the Australian-only competition with four wins from eight before being knocked out in the playoff match.
Putting that to one side, it is hard to justify there being a form of stability within the franchise as they embark on their toughest on-field challenge in well over a year. Former coach Dave Wessels stepped down three weeks ago, seemingly before he was pushed out the door, making way for assistant Kevin Foote to take over in the interim.
The playing group does feature a host of experienced heads including Wallabies stalwarts Reece Hodge, Matt To'omua and Marika Koroibete, to guide them through the uncertain fog.
2021 Super Rugby Australia finish: Champions
Coach: Brad Thorn
Notable players: Filipo Daugunu, James O'Connor, Jordan Petaia, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Taniela Tupou, Liam Wright
Opening fixture: at Highlanders, Friday May 14, 7:05pm
There's no doubting the 2021 Super Rugby Australia champion Reds will begin their campaign with plenty of confidence, and they have a Mosgiel-native with plenty of knowledge of the sport on this side of the Tasman to prime them for battle.
The Queenslanders have enjoyed gradual improvement since former All Black and Crusader Brad Thorn took the helm as coach in 2018. It culminated in a piece of silverware last weekend, and it feels as though more is on the way.
Thorn has assembled a productive squad that includes the rejuvenated James O'Connor and gun outside back Jordan Petaia. Former league star Suliasi Vunivalu is also set to grace the New Zealand grass for the first time in the 15-man game.
Flanker Fraser McReight recently affirmed there will be no hangover from his side ahead of their first match against the Highlanders.
"They're very good sides. The key difference for us though is they love playing up-tempo, with speed. We've had a discussion with what to expect in the next five weeks," he told Channel Nine.
"Historically in 2018/2019 we've done quite well against the New Zealand rugby teams."
2021 Super Rugby Australia finish: Fifth
Coaches: Jason Gilmore and Chris Whitaker (interim)
Notable Players: Angus Bell, Jake Gordon, Lachlan Swinton
Opening fixture: vs Hurricanes, Friday May 14, 9:45pm
By contrast to their northern rivals who laid fingers on silverware a week ago, the Waratahs' experiment with a New Zealand coach backfired mightily with former Canterbury coach Rob Penney given the boot in March, leaving the New South Wales franchise without a full-time coach since.
The Waratahs failed to find form and finished without a win in the Australian competition – dead last on the ladder and 13 points adrift from the fourth-placed Rebels. Perhaps that is proof Penney was not the issue.
Regardless, the Waratahs enter the competition with barely a leg to stand on and very little in the way of firepower to unleash, with next to no talent at their disposal. A mere four players featured in Dave Rennie's initial 2021 Wallabies squad naming, but one towering forward that will ring a few bells is New Zealand-born Jack Whetton – the son of All Blacks great Gary Whetton.
However one of their temporary mentors in Jason Gilmore told rugby.com.au given no one is expecting much from them, the pressure has eased off.
"If you're the underdog going in, no one expects anything of you. I think it's the perfect position for the Australian teams to come out swinging in those first games," he said.
2021 Super Rugby Australia finish: Third
Coach: Tim Sampson
Notable Players: Richard Kahui, Jeremy Thrush, Sitaleki Timani
Opening fixture: vs Chiefs, Saturday May 15, 11:55pm
Fortune favours the brave – truer words could never be spoken when it comes to the Western Force.
The Force were dropped from Super Rugby at the end of 2017 in one of the competition's many bland restructures, but the team continually proclaimed their desire to remain in the competitive rugby realm.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Western Australians come off a third placing in the Australian competition, locking up a spot in the playoff, and now have their eyes set on five of their old rivals from across the ditch.
The Force's roster is filled with mostly unknowns, but three were recently rewarded with call-ups to Rennie's first squad of the year in uncapped duo Tim Anstee and Feleti Kaitu'u, along with Sitaleki Timani.
They also have some former All Blacks on the roster in Richard Kahui and Jeremy Thrush.
Kahui however has sent a warning to his fellow Australian sides, saying matchups with the Kiwis will come as a shock.
"[Ball movement and possession] is something that will be a bit of a shock for a few of the teams over here in Australia, who are more territory-based," he told AAP. "There will be a little bit of a change, and we'll have to adapt. But at the same time it offers a lot of opportunities for us."