Rhinos pride at World Club international Challenge
Leeds players may not openly admit it, but they have had one eye on the World Club Challenge from the moment the Old Trafford hooter confirmed their historic Grand Final success over St Helens in October.
Amidst the blood and thunder of weekly rugby league, Friday night affords a one-off opportunity for the Super League champions to take on Australia's best for the club game's top prize.
And that is not a fact lost on Leeds who, for the first time, host the fixture in their Headingley backyard rather than at a neutral venue - if you can call Elland Road that.
"It will be good for us," coach Brian McDermott admits. "But I reckon it will work for Manly, too, because they will thrive off the intensity the Headingley crowd generates. Manly should arrive with an 'any patch of grass' attitude."
Manly beat Leeds Rhinos 28-20 when the two sides last met in 2009
I spent Monday afternoon at the Headingley Carnegie Stadium as Manly arrived for their first look around ahead of Friday night's game.
Several of the players, who had spent the previous day watching Warrington thrash London at the Halliwell Jones, were both jetlagged and very cold when they arrived in Leeds. Forward Joe Galuvao had five layers and two hats on when I interviewed him in mid-afternoon. He says he acclimatised for the trip by sitting in his fridge.
While I sensed a 'lads on tour' vibe from the Sea Eagles - they even arrived in the kind of minibus usually reserved for rowdy stag parties - the mood in the Rhinos camp was very much a buzz of excitement.
The message after Leeds's loss at Wigan on Saturday was that the World Club Challenge had not distracted the team's focus from the first two rounds of Super League.
But the error-strewn nature of the loss mirrored their defeat at Harlequins the week before last season's Challenge Cup final. And on both occasions I would argue the players' eyes were one week off the ball.
Indeed, one member of staff told me on Monday they were actually keen to get past the Manly fixture so "we can get back to normal again". Like it or not, such a big game just two matches into the new domestic season, has been a distraction. But the Rhinos are hungry to make it count.
While the Super League champions' talk was of an opportunity to beat the world's best, the Manly players tell me that for them this is as much about a pre-season bonding trip as it is a chance to start the year with a trophy. That may be true, but once that hooter sounds and that Aussie pride kicks in, there is not one player in either shirt that will see it as anything other than an England versus Australia cup final.
For me, the argument that the British club takes this competition more seriously than the Aussies doesn't wash anymore. Manly have brought a full-strength squad dripping with Origin and international talent. Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Tony Williams are not here for a pre-season holiday. Galuvao also tells me it also a welcome trip out of the country for the squad to escape what he describes as "crazy media scrutiny" they have received in Sydney since the sudden departure of coach Des Hasler in November.
Meanwhile, Leeds see it as a simple opportunity for England to beat Australia. "It's well documented how our national team fares against the southern hemisphere so many people look to this game as our best chance to beat them," says McDermott who admits Leeds were "exposed" by Wigan last week. "It is easier to motivate my players off a good performance, but we haven't been dealt that hand. We will get it right, it will work for us."
I had several pre-season chats with McDermott and chief executive Gary Hetherington about the club's recruitment policy. The Rhinos way has always been to promote from within, with very rare big-name, big-money overseas signings. Hetherington did travel to Australia in January to see what was available, with a centre and second rower top of his list.
But with the inflated wages that Australian NRL clubs can now offer with a lucrative new television deal and with the UK suffering against the Aussie dollar, it has become an almost impossible task.
Both Hetherington and McDermott insist they will never favour spending money on an overseas player unless they are confident he would improve the option they already have in that position.
The lack of any such signing therefore is a huge pat on the back to youngsters Kallum Watkins, Zak Hardaker and Ben Jones-Bishop.
While these players are experiencing the big-game atmosphere very early in their careers, one man at the other end of the career path is bidding to make history. England captain Jamie Peacock has played in five World Club Challenges and seeks a record-breaking fourth victory. He tells me the most he knows about Manly is that "it is a nice place to go on holiday".
He adds: "Moments like this are special and you need to savour and enjoy. The NRL is seen as the benchmark. Players get frustrated here at the perception from Australia of how Super League is played. We want to show them what we can do. Our reward for winning Super League is the chance to go on and prove we are the best in the world".
When England plays Australia at any sport it is bloodthirsty. When the two heavyweights stepping into the ring are rugby league champions, the canvas is likely to tremble.