The Blues squad includes 12 current or former All Blacks and two Samoa World Cup players in their 38-strong squad that comprises seven rookies.
Strong performances in 2020 led to Alex Hodgman, Akira Ioane, Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu progressing to the All Blacks for the Bledisloe Cup-Tri Nations campaign to join fellow Blues players Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papalii, Rieko Ioane and newly signed Nepo Laulala. Ray Niuia, who missed the 2020 season with injury, and Auckland prop James Lay were both in the Manu Samoa team in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The rookies include sought-after teenage talent, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Taine Plumtree (Wellington) and the Auckland quartet of Soane Vikena, AJ Lam, Zarn Sullivan and Lay.
Blues ' 2021 Super Rugby squad:
Hookers: Ray Niuia, James Parsons, Soane Vikena
Props: Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, James Lay, Marcel Renata, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi
Locks: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti , Sam Darry, Josh Goodhue, Jacob Pierce, Patrick Tuipulotu
Loose forwards: Blake Gibson, Dillon Hunt, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Hoskins Sotutu
Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Jonathan Ruru
Inside backs: Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer
Midfield: TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele'a
Outside backs: Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Jone Macilai-Tori, Emoni Narawa, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan, Mark Telea
Bryn Gatland's decision to sign with the Chiefs for the next three years was made without the input of his father.
Warren Gatland will leave his post as Chiefs coach for a year to lead the British and Irish Lions in their series against the Springboks. He will return to the Super Rugby franchise in 2022 for the final two years of his contract, with Bay of Plenty coach Clayton McMillan taking over for the 2021 season.
The 25-year-old Gatland will make up a third of the Chiefs first-five contingent for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season, being joined by Kaleb Trask and the uncapped Rivez Reihana.
Brodie Retallick's sabbatical means the locking group is rather thin, with 21-year-old Naitoa Ah Kuoi and 20-year-old Tupou Vaa'i the most experienced options.
The team's bulk of class resides in the loose forwards, with Sam Cane, Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Pita Gus Sowakula and Mitch Karpik on the books.
Chiefs' 2021 Super Rugby squad:
Hookers: Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei'aho
Props: Sione Mafileo, Atunaisa Moli, Ollie Norris, Reuben O'Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta'avao
Locks: Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Tupou Vaa'i
Loose forwards: Kaylum Boshier, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Simon Parker
Halfbacks: Xavier Roe, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber
Inside backs: Bryn Gatland, Rivez Reihana, Kaleb Trask
Midfielders: Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Bailyn Sullivan, Quinn Tupaea
Outside backs: Jonah Lowe, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia, Sean Wainui.
The Hurricanes will have plenty of experience among the ranks, including All Blacks Dane Coles, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ardie Savea, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape.
Julian Savea also makes his return to the side, following his return from France and a stand-out season for the Wellington Lions.
Hawke's Bay's Lolagi Visinia and Wellington's Pepesana Patafilo will take up the final two spots in next year's Hurricanes roster.
Hurricanes' 2021 Super Rugby squad:
Props: Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Xavier Numia, Tyrel Lomax, Fraser Armstrong, Tevita Mafileo
Hookers: Ricky Riccitelli, Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles,
Locks: Liam Mitchell, James Blackwell, Scott Scrafton, Kane Leaupepe, Isaia Walker Leaware
Loose forwards: Du Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Gareth Evans, Ardie Savea, Devan Flanders, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose
Halfbacks: Jamie Booth, Jonathan Taumateine, Luke Campbell
Inside backs: Jackson Garden Bachop, Simon Hickey
Midfield: Ngani Laumape, Billy Proctor, Vince Aso, Julian Savea
Outside backs: Salesi Rayasi, Wes Goosen, Jordie Barrett, Danny Toala, Peter Umaga Jensen, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love, Pepesana Patafilo
The Crusaders will be without three key backs to kick-off Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021, but an injection of youth should help cover the losses.
All Black Braydon Ennor will miss the entire competition with an ACL injury he suffered in September. Fellow international George Bridge along with Manasa Mataele will miss the first half of the competition, both with pectoral injuries.
Coach Scott Robertson says they have plenty of depth to lean on, something you need if you want to win titles.
"Braydon's out for Aotearoa, and Bridgey and Manasa are out for half… we're lucky we've got some great depth that can come in.
"We've got a lot of guys that can play in multiple positions like a Dave Havili and Leicester Fainga'anuku.
"Leicester during Mitre 10 Cup was carrying a few people out the on the field, he's an awesome talent. If you want to win championships you need depth and if George is out, Leicester comes in. There's great completion in all positions."
The four-time defending champions welcome rookies Isaiah Punivai, Chay Fihaki, Taimati Williams and Fletcher Newell, who have all come through the academy and provincial rugby to earn spots.
Crusaders' 2021 Super Rugby squad:
Props: Joe Moody, Ollie Jager, Isi Tuungafasi, George Bower, Michael Alaalatoa, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell
Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, Andrew Makalio,
Locks: Scott Barrett, Quentin Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano
Loose forwards: Cullen Grace, Tom Sanders, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili, Whetu Douglas, Tom Christie
Halfbacks: Mitch Drummond, Ere Enari, Bryn Hall,
Inside backs: Richie Mo'unga, Brett Cameron
Midfield: Jack Goodhue, Fergus Burke, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod,
Outside backs: Chay Fihaki, George Bridge, Manasa Mataele, Sevu Reece, David Havili, Will Jordan, Leicester Faingaanuku, Isaiah Punivai
There are six new faces and two returning players among the Highlanders squad. The squad features 22 forwards and 17 backs and will again be co-captained by Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith.
A returning familiar face is former All Black Liam Squire who last played for the team in 2019 and has been back in NZ rehabilitating an injury after a brief stint playing in Japan, he is expected to be back to full fitness by the time the competition starts in February.
The big loose forward at full fitness will add some punch to an already exciting looking set of loose forwards with the exciting Japanese World Cup player Kazuki Himeno included along with former Crusader Billy Harmon and James Lentjes returning from injury after missing Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020.
Highlanders' 2021 Super Rugby squad:
Props: Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Josh Hohneck
Hookers: Ricky Jackson, Ash Dixon, Liam Coltman
Locks: Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Maanaki Selby-Rickit, Bryn Evans
Loose forwards: Billy Harmon, James Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Sione Misiloi, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Liam Squire
Halfbacks: Kazuki Himeno, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava
Inside backs: Josh Ioane, Mitchell Hunt
Midfield: Fetuli Paea, Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga Jensen, Ngane Punivai
Outside backs: Nehe Milner Skudder, Connor Garden Bachop, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Solomon Alaimalo, Michael Collins, Sam Gilbert, Vilimoni Koroi
The moving players
Notable changes from one franchise to another.
First-five Bryn Gatland – to the Chiefs from the Highlanders
Outside back Solomon Alaimalo - to the Highlanders from the Chiefs
Prop Sione Mafileo – to the Chiefs from the Blues
Loose forward Billy Harmon - to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
Utility back Fetuli Paea – to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
Utility back Chase Tiatia – to the Chiefs from the Hurricanes
Utility back Jonah Lowe - to the Chiefs from the Hurricanes
Prop Nepo Laulala – to the Blues from the Chiefs
Loose forward Dillon Hunt – to the Blues from the Highlanders
The new faces
The official rookies' class of 2020 is:
Highlanders (3): Sam Gilbert (Otago), Jermaine Ainsley, Kazuki Himeno
Crusaders (4): Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Chay Fihaki, Isaiah Punivai (Canterbury)
Chiefs (7): Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana (Waikato), Tupou Vaa'i, Josh Lord, Kaylum Boshier (Taranaki)
Hurricanes (5): Tevita Mafileo, Luke Campbell (Bay of Plenty), Ruben Love, Pepesana Patafilo (Wellington), Brayden Iose (Manawatu)
Blues (7): Soane Vikena, AJ Lam, James Lay, Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki)
By the numbers
A total of 193 contracted players have been named across the Blues, Gallagher Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes with the Blues and Chiefs each still to add one additional player.
There will be 13 sets of brothers across the five squads, but only three sets play for the same team – Lachlan and Kaylum Boshier (Chiefs), Ardie and Julian Savea (Hurricanes), and Akira and Rieko Ioane (Blues).
The other brothers are Scott and Jordie Barrett (Crusaders & Hurricanes), Peter and Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Ofa and Isi Tuungafasi (Blues & Crusaders), Jack and Josh Goodhue (Crusaders & Blues), Ngane and Isaiah Punivai (Highlanders & Crusaders), Bailyn and Zarn Sullivan (Chiefs & Blues), Jackson and Connor Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Sione and Tevita Mafileo (Chiefs & Hurricanes), and Daniel and Anton Leinert-Brown (Highlanders & Chiefs).
Auckland hooker Soane Vikena, who joins the Blues at 19-years, 5 months and one day old, more than 17 years younger than the oldest contracted player - two-Test All Black lock and newly minted Highlander Bryn Evans.
Evans (Hawke's Bay), who has previously played for the Blue and Hurricanes, returns to Super Rugby for the first time since 2009. Otago prop Josh Hohneck (Highlanders), and Hawke's Bay wing Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes), also return to Super Rugby Aotearoa after lengthy absences overseas.