Frosty reception awaits Cowboys in England
He is one of only three current members of the Cowboys squad to have appeared in a World Club Challenge clash in England and Justin O'Neill has some stern advice for his North Queensland teammates: You don't know what you're in for.
The Cowboys will play a final trial game against the Townsville Blackhawks in Townsville on Thursday night before flying to England where they will be allowed to see the sights of London before settling in for their assignment against the Leeds Rhinos on February 21.
O'Neill, Rory Kostjasyn and Ben Hannant have each travelled to England as members of the Storm and Broncos squads in recent years but for many of the Cowboys players it will be unfamiliar surroundings and very unfamiliar weather.
As they have sweated through another gruelling North Queensland pre-season their opponents in Leeds have been preparing in temperatures rarely nudging double digits.
Some players have already been experimenting with longer studs in expectation of heavy conditions at famed Headingley Stadium but O'Neill says any sense they have of 'cold weather' will be blown out of the water when they step off the plane.
"Whenever we go to Melbourne and sometimes to Sydney in winter the boys say that it's freezing but I say to them, 'This is kind of all right, this isn't too bad'," O'Neill told NRL.com.
"It's obviously a lot cooler in Melbourne when I was there but the training that we've been doing has been in pretty extreme heat so that's going to be a massive change to see how the boys cope when we go over to England.
"I know the boys are expecting it to be cold but I'm not sure how cold they actually think it's going to be.
"I remember last time I played there with Melbourne [in 2013] the game was freezing cold. It got to a point where there was sleet and it almost snowed, freezing conditions.
"In the cold air you can find it hard to breathe sometimes and maybe wet, slippery conditions, change of boots, stuff like that."
Coach Paul Green is eager to allow the same 17 that defeated the Broncos 17-16 in the grand final the chance to claim the title as world champs but says the weather won't be the only cold reception awaiting them.
Green was a member of the Cronulla team that travelled to England to participate in the Super League World Club Championship in 1997 and said the experience of playing in the north of England is one the players will never forget.
"The biggest thing is the crowd," Green said. "They really get behind their teams and we did pretty well, we won our three games, but the crowds still created a great atmosphere.
"They're smaller suburban-type grounds but a smaller crowd sounds like there is three-times as many people in the stadiums which is great.
"They've got some funny sledges too, that gave the boys a laugh.
"I think it was Jason Stevens who walked down the field to come on and they started singing 'Who ate all the pies?' Things like that were hilarious and the boys loved that."
The final hit-out before the Cowboys begin their premiership defence in Round 1 against the Sharks at 1300SMILES Stadium, the World Club Challenge assignment is much more than a trial game, it is an occasion that players cherish for the rest of their careers.
"You come off the back of winning the grand final and you think that's going to be the pinnacle but then this is kind of like the icing on the cake," says O'Neill.
"If you can win this game and end your season off from last year with another win in the World Club Challenge, it's the best of two countries.
"To say you're the better team of the two countries is definitely a massive achievement and I think the boys are definitely treating it like that.
"We're not going over there just for a trial game. We're going over there to compete and play our best footy and hopefully come away with the win."