The tenth anniversary tournament is upon us and the question I ask myself is how much better can it get than last season? It just seems to build and build, reaching new heights every year, but 2003/4 has to go down as a classic campaign.
The semi-final weekend goes down as my most enjoyable rugby experience, and the final was unbelievably memorable, too. Where does the Heineken Cup rank? Well, it's undoubtedly the best non-International competition in the world. I can sense the excitement around the clubs and provinces as I talk to them in the build-up.
Aside from the thrilling rugby, the most heartening story to come through last season was the presence of Edinburgh in the quarter-finals. Another barrier had been broken, a first Scottish side in the last eight.
The next challenge is for an Italian outfit to progress to the knockout stages. I'm not saying it will happen this time, but it has to be an objective for all those who want European rugby to flourish right across the continent. The Italians are not whipping boys, they provide difficult opposition on their own patch, but what they have to address is their ability on their travels.
So here we go again, another magical season lies ahead full of stories and intrigue...Let me take you through Friday night's opening games:
Llanelli Scarlets v Toulouse
Llanelli must be worried. Their form in the Celtic League is not good and they've got Toulouse first up in the Heineken Cup. Now that's a major reason to be worried.
Toulouse are such a good side. I watched the 2004 Heineken Cup final again this week, and whilst the fact remains that Toulouse played the beautiful rugby in the match, the winning rugby was played by Wasps.
They have started well in the French Championship, played 10 and won seven, but lost to Clemont-Auvergne at the weekend, where ex-Llanelli fly-half Stephen Jones played a role in their downfall. However, they are generally looking in fine fettle for a shot at claiming a third European title.
It really is a frightening prospect for the Scarlets, but Toulouse supporters will also be concerned by the trip to Stradey Park, their first one. It's a venue which would be near the top of anyone's list of places you would rather not start a Heineken Cup campaign, just ask Northampton.
So there will be fear on both sides and Llanelli should use the home factor to the limit.
Their supporters have a massive part to play in this encounter. Toulouse overcame a slow start last year (they lost in Edinburgh) because of the weaker nature of the group compared to the more competitive section which is Pool 3 this season.
But at least for Toulouse it is an away game and if they lost, three home games would still await. For Llanelli, you sense that a home win is a must.
This is one of my matches this weekend, so I must make a formal prediction. I back Toulouse to win the tournament, but I've got a funny feeling that the Scarlets will win on Friday.
I've got no hard facts from the Celtic League to support my case and it's a hunch based on Llanelli emotion. Also, I would not necessarily recommend a trip to the bookies but Toulouse might just catch a cold in Wales. We shall see.
However, Gareth Jenkins' men must address a major psychological issue, having lost at home to French opposition in the quarter-finals in the last two years. There is no doubt that Toulouse have the ability to make that into a French hat-trick
Ulster v Cardiff Blues
This is such an even group, with Ulster, Cardiff, Gloucester and Stade Francais thrown together. Home advantage is a major issue in the Heineken Cup and has been a friend of Ulster's over the years. They are undefeated in their last nine European games at Ravenhill, and who could forget the 33-0 drubbing they handed out to Leicester last season. Neither side is going too well in the Celtic League but it's Cardiff facing the bigger task. Maybe they can use Europe as a springboard to brighter times, but I have my doubts with Ravenhill normally a decisive factor. It was when the two sides met in this competition two years ago.
Ulster, at home
Edinburgh Rugby v Perpignan
My new Scottish colleague Jim Hay makes his debut in the Sky Sports commentary box for Edinburgh's daunting trip to the foothills of the Pyrenees. There are bad memories of recent trips across the channel for Edinburgh followers, those two defeats at the hands of Toulouse marred last season's landmark campaign.
Edinburgh will be prepared but Perpignan will be `cooking` on Friday night. Anyone not going for a home win would be isolated and I'm with the crowd on this one.
Saturday is a huge day of Heineken Cup action, with three LIVE matches on Sky Sports plus four other matches elsewhere. Here's my take on all the action:
Dragons v Falcons
This will be a good game to watch. Jonny Wilkinson's absence at Rodney Parade has obviously dominated the build-up but there is so much more to it than just that.
There are bad memories lurking for the Falcons...In their only previous Heineken Cup campaign they lost home and away to Newport, the forerunners of The Dragons. In fact they lost heavily in East Wales, 53-17.
Newcastle have stuttered a bit, Rob Andrew must be worried about their form, while The Dragons are going well in the Celtic League under the guidance of former Australia rugby league coach Chris Anderson, who must have been the most eyebrow-raising coaching appointment of the summer.
Anderson is doing just fine, bringing to the club new ideas and benefiting from the excellent set-up created by Wales coach Mike Ruddock.
I'm intrigued by the return to Wales of Colin Charvis. The former national skipper is bound to get a `warm` reception after his long affiliation with a West Wales club, Swansea. Charvis will be switched on.
I'm going for the home side, the Falcons may find the Dragons too hot to handle
Bath v Bourgoin
Heineken Cup rugby comes back to The Rec after a two-season absence with a visit from Bourgoin, and that's great. The west country giants were involved in one of the great Heineken Cup moments when they lifted the trophy in 1998 and it's good to have them back.
Now, those who say that a French side are bad travellers simply rely on a tired old cliche and I would say that the performances of Toulouse, Biarritz, Stade Francais and Perpignan in recent seasons have blown that apart. However, the away day blues are a legitimate concern for Bourgoin.
They have won at Sale and Ravenhill, but their 10 other Heineken Cup trips have ended in defeat including last season at Treviso.
The Bath pack are playing so well, but victory will only come if they use the ball wisely. Something they once again failed to do against Wasps last weekend.
It's Bath, if the backs turn on the style.
Leicester v Calvisano
This is an absolute home banker, but it will be worth Leicester thinking about a really big performance. With Wasps and Biarritz also lurking in this ultra-competitive group it is essential to get a bonus point and rack up the tries. There is no way the Tigers will coast though. A convincing performance would set them up for next week's daunting trip to the far south west of France.
Leicester by a sizeable margin. They will want to get this one done and dusted and out of the way before the sterner tests to come. This will not be that easy for Leinster. Although recognised as one of the perennial lesser lights, Treviso have actually won 11 of their 36 Heineken Cup matches.
Treviso v Leinster
Can Leinster move on from last year? They have got some star names and generally start brightly giving the impression that they are on course for something special. They have threatened before with two semi-finals and a quarter-final but last season did not even qualify for the last eight. A year ago they were not helped by self-inflicted problems at fly-half, the administrative error that cost them Felipe Contepomi. It was no disgrace in the end to go out to Biarritz although, having beaten the French side 32-6 at Lansdowne Road in the opening game, seeing the French side progress to the semi-finals would have left a bad taste in the mouth.
I'm also excited by the names in the Leinster squad and expect them to start this season with that opening day win again.
Stade Francaisv Gloucester
Gloucester have been learning and growing in Europe over the years but have still to put that nightmare afternoon in Limerick two season ago behind them.
To go to the west of Ireland needing only to avoid a 27-point defeat, and ending up going down by exactly that margin to Munster was a very bitter pill to swallow. As if to be further punished, they were sent to Thomond Park again last time round, did better, but still lost.No Munster this time, but it is a still a tough group with Stade, Ulster and Cardiff in their sights. None of those clubs will fancy going to Kingsholm, but it's the same the other way round and the trip to Paris is a huge test of Gloucester's resolve.
Can they do it on their travels? Well, they have the France defensive coach Dave Ellis on their side which is a huge advantage for their preparations. But Stade are now guided by former France scrum-half Fabien Galthie and it will be fascinating to see how he goes as a coach. He was a charismatic figure as a player, can he cut it off the field?
This is one of those games that will tell you so much about the teams involved, Stade will be favourites to win but Gloucester will be desperate to succeed away and to make a statement about their prospects. They don't want to be making up the numbers again.
What a win this would be for Gloucester, but I'm going for Stade by a whisker. Watch it though, it could go either way.
Munster v NEC Harlequins
This is just what you want if you are a Quins player, isn't it?! They have played seven and lost seven in the English Premiership. If they could become the first club to lower Munster's colours in Limerick it would send shock waves around European, even world rugby.
I know I'm getting boring on the subject but every rugby fan must visit to Thomond Park. It rates alongside Twickenham, Stade de France, the Millennium Stadium, Eden Park, Newlands - you name it. Not in terms of size but it's the atmosphere. It's a box you have got to tick, but whether you can get a ticket is another matter!
Unless Quins dig deep they will be put away. Munster will have them in their sights and will want to send them packing.
Fear of a sporting catastrophe sometimes brings out the best in a team and, Quins will need spirit aplenty on Saturday. But surely nothing other than yet another home win at Thomond Park can be predicted.
Castres v Ospreys
Is this the big away win of the weekend? It's a very hard game to call...The Ospreys are flying in the Celtic League, while Castres are seventh in France. That equation makes it all very tight.
Castres have a home reputation to defend, but the Ospreys are unbeaten. It could happen for the Welshmen and what a wonderful win it would be for them.
Last season the Ospreys were beginning the amalgamation of two proud Welsh clubs, there had to be a settling in period and it was never going to be an overnight success.
Now, however, Lyn Jones is benefiting from the steady knitting together of the two organisations and has clearly got some great talent to work with. In particular I rate fly-half Gavin Henson.
Jones has also acquired some useful players from the demise of the Celtic Warriors. The coach is clearly leading the evolution well.
This weekend there is also the chance for the former Wasps stalwart Paul Volley, now in Castres colours, to take on British opposition again.
The Ospreys will have a go and I just think they might pull it off.