After two separate renditions of domestic provincial play, the Australian-New Zealand partnership is at last repaired with Super Rugby Trans-Tasman launching a new era for the 15-man game in this corner of the world.
Whether it becomes a permanent fixture on the southern hemisphere rugby calendar remains to be seen, but it's clear there is plenty of excitement for what is to come over the next six weeks.
Will the Australian sides be cannon fodder as the bookmakers suggest? Can the Blues finally get their act together? How much of a toll will the title runs of the Crusaders and Reds taken?
It really does promise to be an intriguing competition.
Stay across all the line-ups as they're named below, as we analyse each fixture and its respective odds.
Friday, May 14
Highlanders: Sam Gilbert, Patelesio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith; Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone. Replacements: Liam Coltman, Ethan De Groot, Josh Hohneck, Bryn Evans, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tim O'Malley, Ngatugnane Punivai.
Reds: Bryce Hegarty, Filipo Daugunu, Josh Flook, Hamish Stewart, Jock Campbell, James O'Connor, Kalani Thomas, Seru Uru, Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young, Angus Blyth, Ryan Smith, Feao Fotuaika, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Dane Zander. Replacements: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakai-Loto, Fraser McReight, Moses Sorovi, Isaac Henry, Suliasi Vunivalu.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Highlanders $1.32, -9.5 $1.90; Reds $3.40, +9.5 $1.90 [Odds correct as of 11am 12/5]
Verdict: Can the Reds back up their outstanding Super Rugby AU campaign against New Zealand opposition? It's the question on everyone's lips and we will have an answer come Friday night. Coach Brad Thorn looks to have employed a clever selection move, pushing the Test trio of Fraser McReight, Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto back to the bench, while NRL convert Suliasi Vunivalu makes his return from injury also among the replacements. That could prove a huge late injection against a Highlanders outfit who are renowned for being fast out of the blocks, particularly at home. But their actual record in Dunedin during the recent Super Rugby Aotearoa wasn't that flash [1-3] and they have also waved goodbye to coach Tony Brown, while also battling a long list of injuries. The Highlanders will want to have this put away before the final quarter and they may well do so, but their $1.32 price is far too short. Look for the Reds late. Reds by three.
Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson, Jake Gordon, Will Harris, Charlie Gamble, Lachlan Swinton, Max Douglas, Hugh Sinclair, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Dave Porecki, Angus Bell. Replacements: Joe Cotton, Tetera Faulkner, Darcy Breen, Jeremy Williams, Carlo Tizzano, Jack Grant, Will Harrison, Tepai Moeroa
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Salesi Rayasi, Ruben Love, Luke Campbell; Devan Flanders, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsip, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Alex Fidow, Dane Coles, Xavier Numia. Replacements: Asafo Aumua, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Mitchell, Brayden Iose, Jonathan Taumateine, Orbyn Leger, Pepesana Patafilo.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Waratahs $11, +24.5 $1.85; Hurricanes $1.04, -24.5 $1.95 [odds correct as of 11am 12/5]
Verdict: It may be a new competition but don't expect the Waratahs fortunes to change. Retaining Ben Donaldson in the starting line-up despite Will Harrison's return from injury, Chris Whittaker and Jason Gilmore are clearly hoping from consistency in their backline with Izaia Perese and Lalakai Foketi creating a dangerous combination out the back. They've made two changes up front however, with Charlie Gamble making his starting debut with the intention of bringing the intensity of Carlo Tizzano off the bench. Meanwhile Mark Nawaqanitawase makes his return to the starting side. It's a different story for the Hurricanes who've swapped out one All Black in Ngani Laumape with another in Peter Umaga-Jensen. Coming off a win over the Highlanders two weeks ago, the Hurricanes look primed and ready to open their Trans-Tasman tally in Sydney and will no doubt come away with the chocolates. Hurricanes by 12
Saturday, May 15
Crusaders: George Bridge, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Tom Sanders, Ethan Blackadder, Samuel Whitelock, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Replacements: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Oliver Jager, Scott Barrett, Brendon O'Connor, Ere Enari, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece.
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Solomone Kata, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Ryan Lonergan, Rob Valetini, Rory Scott, Henry Stowers, Nick Frost, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio. Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Tom Hooper, Luke Reimer, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen
Odds: [tab.com.au] Crusaders $1.09, -19.5 $1.95; Brumbies $7.50, +19.5 $1.85 [odds correct as of 11am 12/5]
Verdict: After falling just short to the Reds in the Super Rugby AU final last weekend, how the Brumbies manage to turn around and pressure the Crusaders will be a real test. Taking on the Crusaders at home is always hard, but facing them in the first week of the new tournament off the back of a disappointing defeat adds extra weight on the Brumbies shoulders. The loss of winger Andy Muirhead will no doubt play a role for the Brumbies, but their greatest strength will come up front with their all-Wallaby front row. The Crusaders meanwhile will be riding on a high after winning their fifth straight Super Rugby title, but have made a few changes of their own in the hopes of giving some of their stars a break. Despite these changes though, the Crusaders will be as formidable as ever. Crusaders by 12.
Rebels: Tom Pincus, Frank Lomani, Campbell Magnay, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua, Joe Powell, Michael Wells, Richard Hardwick, Josh Kemeny, Ross Haylett-Petty, Rob Leota, Cabous Eloff, Jordan Uelese, Cameron Orr. Replacements: James Hanson, Matt Gibbon, Lucio Sordoni, Steve Cummins, Michael Icely, James Tuttle, Carter Gordon, Lachie Anderson
Blues: Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, AJ Lam, Otere Black, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Marcel Renata, Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe. Replacements: Soane Vikena, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nerpo Laulala, Jacob Pierce, Akira Ioane, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Mark Telea.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Rebels $5.50, +16.5 $1.90; Blues $1.15, -16.5 $1.90 [odds correct as of 11am 12/5]
Verdict: This will be a tough test for the Rebels first up. Missing out on Super Rugby AU final and dropping their coach ahead of the Trans-Tasman competition, they'll have something to prove when they host the Blues. Naming a strong side, they'll be hoping to use their biggest weapon in Marika Koroibete to break open the Blues. It's a similar story for the Blues after they failed to find consistency in Super Rugby Aotearoa and missed out on the final. The loss of Caleb Clarke to the sevens program will bite, but Reiko Ioane can make just a big an impact on his own. Blues by 7
Force: Rob Kearney, Richard Kahui, Kyle Godwin, Henry Taefu, Jordan Olowofela, Jake McIntyre, Tomas Cubelli, Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tim Anstee, Fergus Lee-Warner, Jeremy Thrush, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu'u, Tom Robertson. Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Ollie Callan, Ian Prior, Domingo Miotti, Jake Strachan
Chiefs: Chase Tiatia, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Jonah Lowe, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa'i, Josh Lord, Angus Ta'avao, Nathan Harris, Aidan Ross. Replacements: Samison Taukei'aho, Oliver Norris, Joe Apikotoa, Zane Kapeli, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Bryn Gatland, Bailyn Sullivan.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Force $5.80, +16.5 $1.90; Chiefs $1.14, -16.5 $1.90 [odds correct as of 11am 12/5]