The 2013-14 A-League season is set to be the most tightly-contested competition yet, with a host of teams vying to take Central Coast's crown.
The Mariners finally ended years of hurt last season with an authoritative 2-0 grand final win over the Western Sydney Wanderers to claim their first A-League premiership.
The Wanderers themselves will be looking to build on a stellar and surreal first season in the A-League, while Harry Kewell will look to spice things up at the Melbourne Heart.
The favourite for the title this year is the Melbourne Victory, with Ange Postecoglou adding two excellent signings to a team brimming with attacking intent.
Former title holders Brisbane Roar will be hoping for some luck with injuries to manage an excellent but thin squad, while it may prove to be another season of transition for the likes of Newcastle and Wellington.
This season could see Adelaide take over Brisbane's mantle as the A-League's possession team par excellence. New coach Josep Gombau has brought in Spanish midfielders Sergio Cirio and Isaias Sanchez in a bid to impose an Iberian style on United.
Steven Lustica, after two years in Croatia and a loan spell in Brisbane, is a solid addition to a midfield that will need to cope without Dario Vidosic.
Up front, Bruce Djite will continue as the spearhead for an attack that will get plenty of service from Carrusca and Jeronimo Neumann, but he has yet to truly take off for any team with which he has played.
Djite's 10 goals for Gold Coast in 2011 remains his season high and his improvement will go some way to dictating Adelaide's hopes of pushing on this year.
At the back, former Roar left-back Michael Zullo arrives on loan from FC Utrecht and will bring defensive graft and some counter-attacking verve to proceedings.
Brisbane arguably has the best starting XI in the A-League, and Roar fans will be celebrating the return of favourite son Matt McKay.
But even with McKay's arrival and the signing of Perth's Liam Miller and former Sydney FC midfielder Dimitri Petratos, the lack of depth is likely to see the side fail to mount a title challenge.
The experience of Massimo Murdocca and drive from skirmisher Mitch Nichols is gone, and injuries to key players could see the Roar struggle to cope over the marathon of a league season.
However, in a sprint, Brisbane could prove fantastic to watch. They retain the league's best attacking midfielder in Thomas Broich and striker in Besart Berisha.
Miller will also add a healthy dose of penetration in a midfield designed to keep possession.
The backline is as decorated as an A-League side could hope for, with captain Matt Smith and goalkeeper Michael Theo a calming influence alongside the vastly experienced Ivan Franjic and Shane Stefanutto.
Intrigue will also surround the continuing partnership between Smith and Socceroos defender Jade North, who was drafted into the side late last season.
A match for the very best in Australian football, the Roar will have their fingers crossed for a charmed run against injury.
After finally breaking their title drought last season, the Central Coast Mariners have dispersed to the four corners of the globe with Graham Arnold turning down interest from the UK to stay and rebuild his champion team.
Shorn of the services of last season's golden boot winner Daniel McBreen, the Mariners will hope Matt Simon can step into the breach. His short spell at Chunnam Dragons yielded little for the striker, but having made over 100 appearances and clocked 36 goals in his Mariners career, he is the most suitable candidate to take up Central Coast's forward position.
Simon will find support in A-League journeyman Marcos Flores, who joins on a free from Melbourne Victory after showing some of the old spark from his Adelaide United days.
There are holes at the back to fill as well after Patrick Zwaanswijk hung up the boots and the man tasked with doing so is Dutchman Marcel Seip - an experienced defender who has enjoyed extensive spells in Holland and England's second tier.
The Mariners still have stability in midfield with John Hutchinson and Nick Montgomery anchoring behind captain Michael McGlinchey and Mitchell Duke, while Flores will add flair and potency behind the striker.
There will be some debate over the merit of Melbourne Heart's incoming transfers this season, with many of the new boys arriving with plenty to prove.
Harry Kewell arrives back in the A-League after a mix-and-match tenure with cross-town rivals the Victory, and he will don the captain's armband this season, should he stay fit.
Orlando Engelaar could have been a superb signing for the club, but the Dutch defender with 14 international caps will be out until January at least after fracturing his right leg.
Coach John Aloisi responded to that setback by swooping for Patrick Kisnorbo - a Socceroo once touted as a future star of the Aussie back line - and his aggression and English league experience will prove vital for the Melbourne club's chances.
Massimo Murdocca is another new arrival who will provide crucial experience, having won grand finals with Brisbane, while Iain Ramsey continues his trip around Australia by joining the Heart - his third A-League club - from Adelaide.
On their day, the Heart are a match for most teams in the A-League. The question remains over the club's ability to string a sequence of results together to make a push for the finals.
That will be an added challenge with the loss of the experienced Simon Colosimo and Clint Bolton, among others.
But with added bulk in defence and the potential for some Kewell-inspired magic, a last-gasp run for sixth spot is not out of the question.
The league's best coach and two excellent inbound transfers could set up the Victory for a return to the A-League winner's podium.
Kosta Barbarouses and his former Brisbane team-mate Mitch Nichols arrive to swell the Victory's ranks and should go some way to replacing Marco Rojas, who now plies his trade in the Bundesliga.
Nichols' midfield graft and forward drive makes will provide a thrilling link-up with a potentially lethal forward line of Barbarouses and Archie Thompson, with Mark Milligan enforcing the Victory's midfield.
Furthermore, marquee signing Pablo Contreras will add experience and know-how to the defence, with the Chilean centre-back coming with European Champions League experience having joined from Olympiacos.
The Victory's first major test of the season will be navigating a tricky opening period - a derby against the Heart, away to Adelaide and then a clash with Brisbane - without Socceroos Milligan and Thompson.
But this is a team packing a punch up front and in the middle of the park, while the likes of Adama Traore, Adrian Leijer and 'keeper Nathan Coe make for an experienced defence.
Newcastle just missed out on a finals spot by a single point, though its awful goal-difference always meant the club was up against it at the business end of last season.
Thirty goals for the season was nothing to shout about, and star man Emile Heskey will be missing for at least three rounds with a knee complaint.
Nathan Burns, who has seven Socceroos caps, will look to fill the gap left by club favourite Ryan Griffiths, who left for China in January. The onus will fall on Burns to provide the goal threat in Heskey's absence.
Dutch centre-back Kew Jaliens has also been snapped up to lend some know-how to Newcastle's defence.
With last season's instability stemming from owner Nathan Tinkler threatening to hand in his A-League license now put to bed, Newcastle's mission this season is to successfully marry its youthful ranks with its experienced recruits.
But with the third-worst defence and second-worst attack last season, Gary van Egmond will have his work cut out to make a finals push.
After last season's late run at the sixth and final spot for the A-League knock-out rounds, Perth will be looking for a much-improved goal-scoring performance this season.
The Glory were anything but glorious in front of goal in 2012-13, chipping in just 29 goals - lower than Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix's tally, who finished ninth and 10th respectively.
With a full-season in front of him after being appointed full-time coach in March, Alistair Edwards will look to New Zealand forward Shane Smeltz to provide the bulk of Perth's goal threat.
Perth's problems are further exacerbated by the long-term injury to Travis Dodd, who had a knee reconstruction towards the tail-end of last season.
But the Glory have looked to shake things up a bit, bringing in a host of young prospects including Australian youth star Daniel De Silva, who caught the spotlight during the under-20 World Cup.
Jamie McLaren returns from Blackburn Rovers and will look to lend Smeltz a helping hand, with some quarters tipping him to make an instant impact in front of goal this year.
Brazilian defender Sidnei will add to Perth's defensive depth and has already endeared himself to the club hierarchy and fans, having paid for his own trip to Perth for his trial with the club.
Sydney FC typifies the A-League's overall improvement this year with a refreshed squad looking to remedy the wrongs of last season's disappointing finish.
Brisbane stopper Matt Jurman and Central Coast's Pedj Bojic arrive to give the Sky Blues a genuine boost in what was a leaky defence last term, while its attacking ranks have also been rejuvenated.
Nick Carle returns from his loan in the United Arab Emirates and will be keen to link up with Alessandro Del Piero, while Fulham's Corey Gameiro could prove to be an inspired signing on the left wing after starring for Australia in the under-19 AFC Championship.
Socceroo forward Richard Garcia also joins Sydney from the Heart.
The brand new support act of Garcia-Carle-Gameiro could prove a tantalising prospect when sandwiched between front-man Del Piero and Brett Emerton in a more reserved central midfield support role.
With so many solid acquisitions, Sydney will be the most interesting team to watch this season. There is a lot of work for Frank Farina to do to improve on last season's seventh place, but if everything clicks, this team could easily surprise the league's top-four candidates.
The biggest arrival for Wellington is new coach Ernie Merrick, who famously oversaw Melbourne Victory during their best years.
Part of Merrick's signature in Melbourne was a stellar front three, and he has added to the wooden spooners' ranks with a former Victory protege in Carlos Hernandez.
Phoenix fans can only hope the likes of Hernandez, Jeremie Brockie and Paul Ifill can recreate Merrick's old striking triumvirate of Hernandez, Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson.
The New Zealanders might have to rely on attack as the best method of defence and look to outscore their opponents, especially at home, with Kenny Cunningham - reportedly recommended by fellow Costa Rican Hernandez - tasked with adding width to the Phoenix midfield.
This will be a season of rebuilding for Wellington after last season's mess, but expect the team to show a marked improvement. Unfortunately, that will come in a season where all teams have improved.
Many will tip the Wanderers to suffer from second-season blues, but the defensive platform they established last season suggests that will not be the case for the A-League's newest club.
Had Western Sydney flown out of the traps and led the club's scoring charts en route to an incredible inaugural-season minor premiership, one could have expected the Wanderers' attack to be figured out the following season.
As it was, the new boys built their unprecedented success on a miserly defence and there is no reason to say that chemistry at the back won't continue to bubble along this time around.
They also boast one of the league's best attacking support cast in Shinji Ono, Youssouf Hersi and Mark Bridge, who will look to further establish themselves this season.
Their striking options were limited last season but Dino Kresinger, who chalked up just two goals in 24 appearances, has been shipped out and replaced by Adelaide's Tomi Juric.
Follow James Maasdorp on Twitter @jammathon