Last season may have ended with a Welsh Championship but in their opening game against Ireland, a slow start saw Wales go into the break 23-3 behind. A second half revival saw the men in red come back into things but failed to prevent what was eventually an eight point defeat.
And Howley has warned Wales they must not produce another slow start against Jacques Brunel's side.
"It's been a really good working week for us," said the former Wales scrum half, as he looked ahead to this weekend.
"We're aware of the challenge and the first game of the Six Nations, at home, is always special.
"It's important we start well with the experienced team we've selected. Last year we didn't do that and we've spoken as a squad about our goals over the next few weeks.
"We gave Ireland an opportunity. We made six or seven mistakes and we can't do that against Italy because they'll thrive on it."
Brunel guided Italy to a fourth place finish in last season's Championship, securing famous wins over France and Ireland along the way.
"I have huge respect for Italian rugby," Howley added.
"It was a tough place to go last year, they have a talismanic player in Sergio Parisse and whoever Italy select in the back row, it's going to be very strong and a key area of the game.
"When you play Italy early on in the Championship, they are going to make things very difficult for you."
While rightly wary of the threat Italy pose, Howley is welcoming the chance to start this year's tournament at the Millennium Stadium. Wales have three home games this season with France and Scotland also coming to Cardiff in the next few months.
"Starting at home is good for us and it reminds you if you don't turn up and be clinical, then you can lose a game," he said.
"We are mindful of that this weekend but we expect to play well on Saturday and we expect to get our Championship off to a winning start."
There are still a limited number of tickets available for Wales vs Italy at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, February 1. There are single tickets available for Wales against France on February 21 but the home encounter with Scotland on the final weekend is sold out. To get your tickets go to www.wru.co.uk/tickets.