The Chiefs beat the Sharks in last year's final to claim their maiden Super Rugby crown. But there will be plenty of competition for the Waikato franchise this time around, with the Stormers leading the charge.
The competition also opens it doors to new-boys Southern Kings, with the Eastern Cape franchise having replaced the Lions.
The other Lions - of the British and Irish variety - will be in Super Rugby action, though, with games against the Australian franchises as part of their tour adding extra spice.
Remember Sky Sports is your home of Super Rugby - with a whole host of games live throughout the season and online with Sky Sports Xtra, while you can catch up with the Super Rugby Show, Super Rugby Q&A and the Tries of the Week here.
The Rebels against the Force gets our live coverage underway on Friday morning, while Saturday sees the Brumbies entertain the Reds. For the TV schedule click here.
The first online game on Sky Xtra will be on March 2, with the Bulls against the Force and the Sharks against the Stormers.
And ahead of the new season, Sky Sports gives you the lowdown on the sides hoping to become champions of the Southern Hemisphere...
Blues: The Auckland franchise have promised so much in recent years but failed to deliver. Much was expected from them last season after they reached the 2011 semi-finals (where they lost to the eventually champions, the Reds) and recruited well. Read more
Brumbies: The Brumbies came agonisingly close to the play-offs last season but a home loss to the Blues in the final round proved costly. Read more
Bulls: Having flattered to deceive for large parts of last season, the Bulls will be keen to set the record straight this time around. Read more
Cheetahs: The Cheetahs were far more competitive last season than their 5-11 record suggests, picking up a staggering seven losing bonus points. Read more
Chiefs: The defending champions face a real arm wrestle to defend their title this time around. Read more
Crusaders: The Crusaders might be the most successful franchise in the history of Super Rugby, however it has be five years since they won the last of their seven titles. Read more
Highlanders: The expectations at the Highlanders shot through the roof last season after a stellar start to the season saw them top the table. Read more
Hurricanes: The fans of the Wellington franchise were left to rue their early season stumbles as the free-scoring outfit just missed out on the play-offs by two points. Read more
Melbourne Rebels: The Rebels enter their third season of Super Rugby confident that this can be their breakthrough year. Read more
Reds: The 2011 champions were another side to rue their early season troubles. A run of six wins in their final six games saw them gatecrash the play-offs. Read more
Sharks: The Sharks won plenty of respect during their run to the final last season, however the clash with the Chiefs ultimately proved to be a game too far. Read more
Southern Kings: It has been a long fight for the Southern Kings to secure their place in Super Rugby - but the biggest battle could be for them to stay there. Read more
Stormers: For all intents and purposes, it looked like 2012 would be the year of the Stormers after they finished top of the table with an impressive 14-2 record. Read more
Waratahs: For a variety of reasons, things just did not click for the Waratahs in 2012. On paper, everything seemed to be in place for a serious challenge - Michael Foley arrived as head coach, while the exciting Sarel Pretorius joined a squad packed full of experience. Read more
Western Force: It is the dawn of a new era at the Force as they look to put last season's troubles behind them. Read more