The first weekend of action features just two games, with four of the five Aussie sides on show. The early start for the Rebels, Force, Brumbies and Reds is due to the presence of the Lions tour this summer, with Britain and Ireland's elite taking on all five outfits between June 5 and June 25 in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
So what can we expect to see from the Australian sides this season? Well, it's fair to say that fans of each of the five teams â00 and of the Wallabies as a whole - would hope to see improvement.
Only the Brumbies pushed beyond expectations last season as they ignored their critics to come within a whisker of a play-off place. The capital-based side enjoyed a promising first season under the stewardship of South Africa's World Cup winning coach Jake White and were only pipped to a knockout spot in the last round of the regular campaign.
The Red were the ones who broke Brumbies hearts at the death as they beat the Waratahs on the same day that White's troops were downed by the Blues. The sides swapped places at the head of the Australian conference as a result, with the Reds edging the Aussie title courtesy of one more win despite being level on points with the Brumbies and the latter enjoying a better aggregate points difference.
Making it through to the knockout stages was a decent showing for the Reds considering the horrific run of injuries they endured in 2012, but the season was still a significant comedown from last time around. Losing national skipper James Horwill and spending much of the season without star playmaker Quade Cooper was hardly ideal but they never looked retaining the tournament title they had won so impressively in 2011. That particular triumph was the first time the Reds had ever lifted the Super Rugby trophy â00 and the first time an Australian side had done so since 2004 â00 but the defence of their crown came to a rather damp end when they were well beaten at home by the Sharks in the first qualifying round on July 21.
As for the other Aussie franchises, occupying three of the bottom five slots doesn't make for pleasant reading, although injury problems again played a significant part in their disappointing showings. The Waratahs started okay but lost eight on the bounce at the end of the season to finish 11th, while the Rebels finished two places lower and the Force ended up in 14th with just three wins all year.
Very little separated the Waratahs and Rebels but they finished at the wrong end of the table
The country's combined showing was a long way short of those of their New Zealand and South African counterparts and no doubt Wallaby head coach Robbie Deans will want to see big strides in 2013. Success often breeds success, with confidence so commonly the key to getting the best out of what's on offer, and Deans will want as many of his men to have a spring in their step come the summer.
Injuries destroyed the Wallaby camp last year but the form of the franchises didn't help either. And with no Test matches scheduled prior to the series with the Lions that starts on June 22, it's even more important that the nation's big names head into camp on a high.
So what are the chances of that happening? Will we witness a major turnaround this term or will the Aussie five struggle to keep up with the likes of the Chiefs, Crusaders, Sharks and Stormers?
Well, you certainly can't accuse the majority of standing still in their search for improvement. Three of the five have announced significant changes in their coaching set up, with Michael Foley swapping Sydney for Perth, Richard Graham waving goodbye to the West Coast to link up with Ewen McKenzie in Queensland, and Michael Cheika taking over from Foley in New South Wales after significant spells in Paris and Dublin.
Foley's arrival at the Force was something of a surprise given that the Waratahs were still keen to keep him despite his nightmare run in the latter part of his first year in charge. The former Bath coach and Wallaby hooker seems to have been a hit in his short time with his new side but you'll get long odds on them finishing anywhere near the play offs.
Losing Wallaby openside David Pocock to the Brumbies and Nathan 'Mr Force' Sharpe to retirement are massive blows that a side already shy on star names could really have done without. Former All Black scrum-half Alby Matthewson and Wallaby lock Hugh McMeniman could prove to be astute signings but the overall quality of the squad looks a little below par, even with the return from injury of back rower Ben McCalman.
The Force face an uphill battle after losing David Pocock to the Brumbies during the off season
As for Foley's old side, the mood certainly appears upbeat within the Waratahs camp. Cheika has spoken repeatedly about giving the people of NSW a side team to be proud of and the work ethic he's been promoting suggests that really could be the case this year.
With 13 Wallaby squad members within their ranks, there's no questioning the quality of the group â00 the key will be whether Cheika can persuade them to blend together better and get his own ideas and strategies across quickly enough.
Israel Folau's brace of tries on his debut last weekend suggest a bright future for the code jumper but it's the addition of Michael Hooper that could prove to be the biggest plus of the pre-season. If the Wallaby newcomer can win enough ball to keep the Waratahs backline on the front foot, Cheika might â00 just might â00 be able to add the southern hemisphere crown to the European title he won with Leinster in 2009.
While the Waratahs will fancy their chances of challenging for top honours this time around, the Reds faithful will almost demand it. Winning the Australian Conference and reaching the knockout stages was seen as a 'so, so' season but the return from the injury of their key men means that more will be expected in 2013. Winning the title in such style two years ago showed that they are every bit as good as the best New Zealand and South Africa can offer and their decision to opt against major alterations to their squad suggests that they're looking for more of the same rather than a radical change in direction despite Grahams' arrival.
The Brumbies might not have a new boss but the signing of Pocock is a huge boost, while White's second season in charge promises to be even more impressive than his first if the noises coming out of Canberra are anything to go by. If Christian Lealiifano can kick on from where he left off prior to a season-ending injury, the Brumbies could be set for bigger things this year. While we wouldn't advise putting your mortgage on seeing them repeat their championship winning campaigns of 2001 and 2004, we'd expect them to be in the mix if Pocock can mirror the impact he has on his country with his new club.
As for the Rebels, having James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale fit to play alongside each was a very rare luxury last time out so simply selecting the pair to perform in tandem in 2013 could have a major impact on their fortunes in their third season of Super Rugby. Throw in the marquee signing of Wallaby blindside Scott Higginbotham and the fact that the foundations of the franchise are now well and truly set and you'll see that hopes are high in Melbourne for more than the customary few good wins sandwiched by far too many losses.
Nick Phipps (left) will hope James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale can inspire the Rebels to success
For an indepth look at the possible fortunes of all five Aussie franchises, check out our 'What lies ahead' series. We've already assessed the prospects of the Force, Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies as they get ready to face the Lions in June and we'll be finishing our previews with a look at the Rebels next week.