10 questions facing every Aussie side
AUSTRALIA have not tasted Super Rugby success since 2014.
And if they are to break their six-year drought, Tim Horan says all four teams must hit on a winning formula early.
That means finding a playmaker at flyhalf boasting an all-out attacking mindset after the departure of Quade Cooper, Christian Lealiifano and Bernard Foley
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Coach: Dan McKellar
Captain: Allan Alaalatoa
Departures: Rory Arnold (Toulouse), Sam Carter (Ulster), David Pocock (Panasonic Wild Knights), Christian Lealiifano (Shining Arcs), Henry Speight (Reds)
Arrivals: Will Miller (Waratahs), Solomone Kata (Melbourne Storm)
Strike force: Losing Henry Speight is a blow, but Ratu Tevita Ravouvou Nadurutamata Kuridrani - or Tevita to his mates - can score against any defence. Noah Lolesi is the pick to take over at No.10.
Shout: In 2001, the Brumbies became the first non-New Zealand side to win the title.
Whisper: The previous season, when Andrew Mehrtens kicked the Crusaders to an agonising 20-19 win over the Brumbies in the final at Canberra Stadium.
Tim Horan's Oz take: They have Australia's best coach in Dan McKellar and the Brumbies have recruited the best of the four Aussie franchises over the past two years to be ready for 2020. New rugby league recruit Solomone Kata should receive plenty of ball on the front foot as the Brumbies have world-class props in Sio, Slipper and new skipper Allan Alaalatoa, plus Folau Fainga'a.
The challenge for the Brumbies will be settling on a flyhalf post-Christian Lealiifano, but they have three youngsters to provide the platform for their exciting backline.
The Brumbies have the best draw of the Aussie teams with three home games first up followed by the Chiefs, a bye and the Sunwolves - so in all likelihood they could be unbeaten when the Waratahs visit in round seven.
The opening game in Canberra on Friday against the Reds will be the match of the round.
Coach: David Wessels
C aptain: Dane Haylett-Petty
Departures: Tetera Faulkner (Waratahs), Robbie Abel (Waratahs), Hugh Roach (London Irish), Adam Coleman (London Irish), Will Genia (Kintetsu Liners), Quade Cooper (Kintetsu Liners), Sione Tuipulotu (Yamaha Jubilo), Jack Maddocks (Waratahs)
Arrivals: James Tuttle (Reds), Andrew Kellaway (Northampton Saints) and someone who will bring some magic to the backline - Harry Potter (Melbourne Rising)
Strike force: Reece Hodge will rack up the points, but the man fans pay to watch is winger Marika Koroibete. Not being funny, but how many tries would this bloke score if he played for a good team?
Shout: The Brumbies game in 2011. A last-minute penalty goal from Englishman Danny Cipriani gave the new boys a 25-24 victory.
Whisper: Another victory over the Brumbies, this time in 2017. It was the Rebels' only win of a terrible season.
Tim Horan's Oz take: Missed a huge opportunity in 2019 to make the finals after leading the Aussie conference for three-quarters of the competition. The loss of Quade Cooper and Will Genia will hit hard, but it'll will allow Matt Toomua to push for the Wallaby No.10 jersey.
Coach: Brad Thorn
Captain: Liam Wright
Departures: Ruan Smith (Rebels), Caleb Timu (Montpellier), Scott Higginbotham (Bordeaux), Matt McGahan (Ricoh Black Rams), Samu Kerevi (Suntory Sungoliath), Duncan Paia'aua (Toulon), Sefa Naivalu (Stade Francois)
Arrivals: Thorn is building from within - he's brought in a bunch of players from Brisbane City and Queensland Country, and we haven't heard of any of them.
Strike force: All eyes will be on teenager Jordan Petaia, with Brad Thorn likely to play him at outside centre. New signing Henry Speight is a proven operator at this level.
Shout: Will Genia, whose 60m try gave the Reds their first (and only) Super Rugby title with a win over the Crusaders in 2011.
Whisper: That Bulls game in 2007. Losing 92-3 is ridiculous at any level, let alone one where the players get paid.
Tim Horan's Oz take: Six wins in 2018 and six again last year. Brad Thorn, into his third year as head coach, needs eight wins to call this season a success and for the Reds to have any chance of making the finals.
No Samu Kerevi anymore, but this allows for the return of James O'Connor to partner with whiz-kid Jordan Petaia.
This should force the Reds backline to play a less direct style and a more open and expansive game plan.
There's a new young captain in Liam Wright, aged 22, while the forward pack is settled and experienced now, even though they are still young. Plus there's some exciting Australian U20s talent, which all means the Reds could finally have the goods for finals footy.
Coach: Rob Penney
Captain: Rob Simmons
Departures: Sekope Kepu (London Irish), Shambeckler Vui (Brumbies), Tolu Latu (Stade Francois), Will Miller (Brumbies), Michael Wells (Rebels), Nick Phipps (London Irish), Bernard Foley (Kubota Spears), Curtis Rona (London Irish)
Arrivals: Jack Maddocks (Rebels)
Strike force: He's not getting any younger, but Kurtley Beale will again be expected to provide the spark in the Tahs backline this season. He's got a couple of good 'uns alongside him in Karmichael Hunt and former Rebel Jack Maddocks, while Michael Hooper will score tries and get yellow cards at regular intervals.
Shout: The Waratahs won the Super Rugby title while being coached by Michael Cheika. How good is that?
Whisper: That day in 2002 when the Crusaders scored 14 tries against them. Like, one every five and a half minutes. Or anything to do with Israel Folau.
Tim Horan's Oz take: A new coach in Rob Penney, but some big-name departures from 2019. This season could be - not that the Waratahs would like this tag - a rebuilding year to bring the younger players through. Where to play Kurtley Beale - at 10 or 15?
This will depend on the early trial form of Mack Mason and Will Harrison at flyhalf. Rebels recruit Jack Maddocks adds strength and pace out wide, and new skipper Rob Simmons will give Michael Hooper a break from being a captain for 12 months of the year, which may be refreshing for him.
Coach: Naoya Okubo
Captain: Willie Britz
Departures: Um … virtually everyone. The new yen-rich Top League has decimated the Japanese side in their last season of Super Rugby, although some of the players may be released by their new clubs to play.
Arrivals: Jake Schatz (London Irish), JJ Engelbrecht (Stormers), Ben Te'o (Toulon)
Strike force: No pressure, Ben Te'o, but if you don't have an amazing season, the Sunwolves are last again.
Shout: The memorable 2017 season, when they didn't finish last. Second-last is not last.
Whisper: Anything along the lines of "I'm really looking forward to watching the Sunwolves next season".