Time to bring silverware to Ravenhill: Henry
Given his involvement in Ireland's tour to North America, Chris Henry had a shorter summer break than most, but the influential flanker is still itching to get back onto the field for Ulster.
Henry was not involved in last week's pre-season win over Leinster but feels the match against last season's RaboDirect PRO12 winners, as well as Saturday's clash against Premiership champions Leicester, is ideal preparation for the campaign ahead.
The eight-cap international said: "To have two big sides for our pre-season games is probably exactly what we need to get us where we want to be come September.
"These friendlies can be a bit hit and miss because you want to give everyone their opportunities so there is always some unfamiliar combinations but people will always be really up for games against those two.
"I think everyone is looking forward to getting back out there and it is always good to have everyone starting from the same point with a fresh slate.
"This is the toughest time of year for the players but we know what we have to do so that we can really hit the ground running when the season starts."
Last Friday's Ravenhill win will not be awarded too much significance by the Ulster staff – there will be far more important encounters between the pair over the coming months – but it did provide an opportunity for a first glimpse of what can be considered a new era for their inter-provincial rivals.
Joe Schmidt's appointment as head coach of Ireland has resulted in Matt O'Connor (pictured) taking the helm, while influential stalwarts Jonny Sexton and Isa Nacewa have also both departed.
That state of flux could give Ulster increased hope of ending a trophy drought that now stretches back to 2006, thanks in no small measure to defeats inflicted by Leinster in the finals of the 2012 Heineken Cup and last season's RaboDirect PRO12.
Despite those setbacks being fresh in the memory, Henry is confident that he and his teammates are ready to go one step further this season.
"I think the last two years show that we have come a long way in a small period but unfortunately we have been just that one bit short every time," he said.
"We want to win silverware, that's what we should be doing with the players we have, and I think we're going to be in an even better place to do that this year."
Such optimism comes, not from any blockbuster summer signings, but a belief that it would be improbable for Ulster to have worse luck on the injury front than they did last season.
At times over the last 12 months the length of the injury list has seemed almost farcical.
"You're always going to get injuries but even compared to other teams last year I thought we were incredibly unlucky and that did maybe hold us up a bit in big games," he admitted.
"We've got some guys coming back from being out long-term with knee injuries and stuff so that could be big for us this year."
Despite the presence of Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe in the treatment room before the season has even kicked off, Henry added: "We have good depth so we'll be able to cover people missing a few games and if we can avoid the big injuries I think it'll be massive for us."