Boss Brian McDermott reckons Leeds Rhinos will be better prepared for Super League XVII than they were before their title-winning 2011 campaign.
Rhinos play their opening warm-up match a month today, when Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are the visitors for the traditional Boxing Day derby.
Pre-season training began earlier this month and another group of players are due to return on Monday, leaving only Leeds’ seven-strong England contingent yet to report back.
They are due to return in January, a month ahead of Rhinos’ opening Super League fixture, at home to Hull KR on February 4.
A year ago McDermott had unexpectedly taken over as coach and didn’t have an assistant in place.
Pre-season had not been properly mapped out and two key players – Jamie Peacock and Danny McGuire – were on the long-term casualty list.
Highlighting the difference between then and now, McDermott said: “I know where my pre-season camp is. I know who my staff are and two of my main players aren’t injured. That’s an advantage already – and I knew I was going to be head coach three months ago.
“I am not particularly changing too much. I am adapting things, as we do throughout the year, but the circumstances are a lot better than this time last year.”
Rhinos won their final six games last term as they became the first team to lift the Super League trophy from fifth place on the ladder.
According to McDermott, that success has increased hunger in the camp.
“The lads who’ve had operations or holidays or later finishes will be back on Monday, said the coach.
“It’s all good – we haven’t lost a game yet! They have all come back in good shape and they are all keen and ready to go.
“We aren’t wanting to start again, we are keen to carry on from where we left off.
“We know we are going to have to go back one or two steps and re-learn things and start from scratch on some things.
“But last year has given everyone an appetite to continue with the attitude we had for the back half of the season.
“I do know Warrington and Wigan and Saints and Huddersfield and Hull and all the teams round about that area will be a lot better as well.
“It is going to be a big challenge next year, but we can’t wait to get started.”
McDermott has confirmed Rhinos will be heading abroad for a warm-weather training camp, but declined to reveal the venue.