DRAGONS boss Bernard Jackman says Friday’s Guinness PRO14 derby with Cardiff Blues is a “freebie” because of their mammoth 29-man injury list.

The Rodney Parade region head to the Arms Park (kick-off 7.35pm) looking to end a near three-year league drought against their three regional rivals.

However, their hopes of triumphing for the first time since their Boxing Day, 2014 success in the capital have been hindered by a huge contingent in the treatment room.

Jackman has had just 25 players in training this week and is hoping that several of his charges pass late fitness tests.

Wales hopeful Ashton Hewitt is a major doubt – 20/80 according to Jackman – after the wing suffered an ankle strain in the win against Southern Kings last weekend.

His back three partners Hallam Amos (dead leg) and Carl Meyer (abductor) are also questionable after injuries against the South Africans while Pat Howard (quad) and Adam Hughes (foot) are out.

Lock Rynard Landman (calf), scrum-half Charlie Davies (concussion) and hooker Gerard Ellis (cheekbone) are still out while on-loan Bristol wing/centre Thretton Palamo has a suspected broken foot suffered against the Kings.

Scrum-half Tavis Knoyle (knee) and flanker Nic Cudd (knee) are out for the season, full-back Zane Kirchner (shoulder), back row Harrison Keddie (shoulder) and centre Sam Beard (pectoral muscle) are sidelined for three months, hooker Rhys Buckley has a back problem, number eight Robson Blake injured his left collarbone at Ulster and prop Sam Hobbs (knee) and back row forward Lewis Evans (Achilles) are on the comeback trail.

Including academy players, the Dragons have 29 players unavailable and Jackman is hoping for some better luck when they finish their Blues preparations on Thursday.

“We haven’t been able to name our team yet, which we usually do privately early in the week,” said the head coach.

“It’ll be easy to pick the team – whoever is fit can play! But it’s just something we’ve got to manage our way through.

“It’s because historically we haven’t trained at the intensity we need to and players aren’t robust enough, but that will change because now we are going to. Our bodies will adapt and we’ll end up having a smaller infirmary.

“It’s challenging but that’s the way it is and it gives someone else another opportunity. Luckily we didn’t send our best team to Ulster or we would have been in trouble.

“It’s just about trying to get guys back as soon as possible and have them back fit enough so that they don’t break down again, that’s the challenge.”

“It’s been tough because haven’t been able to prep,” he continued. “We weren’t able to train as we would like to on a Tuesday.

“We have got a routine that we think works for us in terms of getting the team ready but we had to change plan because we just didn’t have enough fit bodies.

“We couldn’t risk anything happen – if anything had happened to Sarel Pretorius or Owain Leonard we wouldn’t have had a 9 in the squad, likewise at hooker.

“That’s just the way it is and I’d like to hope on Thursday we might pick up somebody on the way back rather than lose somebody.”

The injury situation has prompted Jackman to claim the underdog tag despite the Blues having a tough start to the season amid off-field uncertainty.

“The Blues are very well coached and Danny [Wilson] has them very well drilled,” said the Dragons boss.

“When there is outside noise the best thing to do is go back to your drill and do what you do.

“Winning away at Connacht showed a lot of team spirit; their defence was excellent and Shaun Edwards’ imprint is starting to show.

“They are hot favourites and deserve to be. For us it’s a freebie to be honest, we can just go there, have a crack and see where we are at. We can measure ourselves afterwards.”

Jackman has a headache in the back three and on his bench but he is able to name a settled pack that will be guided by the experienced half-back partnership of Pretorius and Gavin Henson with centres Jack Dixon and Tyler Morgan outside them.

His back three options are centre/wing Adam Warren, who is back from a hamstring injury, and young prospects Jared Rosser and George Gasson.

Former Blues hooker Liam Belcher is battling with Ellis Shipp to back up Elliot Dee while Leonard will be Pretorius' deputy with on-loan Dane Blacker unable to play against his parent club.