THREE years ago Aaron Wainwright was in the middle, lifting silverware aloft after inspiring Bassaleg School to upset the odds. On Sunday the flanker could be 80 minutes away from doing the same with Wales on rugby's biggest stage.

The Dragons forward is now frequently on the back page of the Argus, a paper that he used to deliver, yet on April 13, 2016 his picture was tucked away in the junior sport section.

Bassaleg had triumphed in the Urdd Schools 7s with captain Wainwright scoring the winning try in the final against Pembrokeshire College.

He hadn't long taken up rugby after the now familiar tale of his switch from football and being a central midfielder with Cardiff City and Newport County's academy.

South Wales Argus:

(Aaron Wainwright, wearing 2, and his Wales U16s teammates with France World Cup winner Patrick Vieira)

The remarkable rise has been told many times in this paper yet the 22-year-old, who still lives at home with his parents in Bassaleg, keeps surprising by making each step up look ridiculously easy.

Wainwright missed out a year in the Premiership with Newport after leaping from Cardiff Met in the 2016/17 Championship to the Dragons in 2017/18.

READ MORE: Wainwright on his shock rugby rise in 2017

His dynamism in the back row earned 25 appearances in Bernard Jackman's side and quickly caught the eye of Wales boss Warren Gatland and his assistant Robin McBryde.

From there came a first cap in Argentina in June, 2018, then an autumn call-up, then his miraculous 2019.

Wainwright has played in all 14 of Wales' internationals this calendar year and has earned the right to be a World Cup starter… and a star.

South Wales Argus:

Last Sunday he was man of the match after crossing for his first international try against France and putting in 14 tackles when showing, in rugby lexicon, that he has 'a big engine'.

Wainwright will be to the fore in Yokohama and will be cheered on from the stands by a gang of friends who have been instrumental in his rise to the top.

It was the desire to play alongside his mates that led to picking up the oval ball at Bassaleg and Whiteheads RFC.

"It was unexpected really because you hear that a footballer is going to have a go at rugby and it was just a case of seeing how they go," said Gwyn Lloyd, formerly a team manager, junior secretary and junior chairman at Whiteheads, and now helping out with the Under-15s, who his boy plays for.

"We just accepted him with open arms and Aaron just hit the ground running and enjoyed himself, which is the biggest thing.

"The atmosphere at this club is not all about winning, as long as you are looking to progress that is what we are looking for.

"There is no big ego with Aaron, he just wants to be better than he was yesterday."

Wainwright is now an inspiration for the youngsters at the Newport club, which will be open to loudly cheer him at 9am on Sunday.

"He is such a club man," said Lloyd. "Before he played for Wales, if he wasn't playing for the Dragons on a Saturday then he would be down here watching the seniors with his mates.

"He has coached sessions with most of the junior teams and the night before he flew to Washington (for Wales' summer tour in 2018) it was our junior presentation night.

"I asked him and (Dragons back row forward) James Benjamin, Scott Andrews and Josh Skinner (both former Dragons), who all came through Whiteheads, if they'd be there.

"He was leaving the house at 6am and hadn't packed but still turned up with his Whiteheads polo shirt on."

South Wales Argus:

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has praised Wainwright's appetite for improvement, a trait that was quickly noticed in his school days.

"I was opening the gym at 7.30am for him and his group of friends," said Gwesyn Price-Jones, who was a rugby hub officer at Bassaleg.

"They always wanted extra sessions from me, (ex-Wales full-back) Justin Thomas and (Newport RFC hall of famer) Mark Batten, whether kicking, passing or tackling. They'd be there as a group and they were inseparable.

"I don't think that Aaron had any intention of being a rugby player, it was just for the sheer enjoyment of playing with his friends.

"We had to fight tooth and nail to get Aaron into the Dragons academy and now he'd be vying for a Lions place.

"That's down to his dedication and his own drive, which I think was helped from his background in Cardiff City's academy."

South Wales Argus:

Wainwright is the first to admit that injuries have helped his progress, first with the Dragons and then with Wales.

The back rower had been earmarked to feature for Newport RFC in 2017 but was on the bench against Southern Kings in September.

He ready to go on at the death only for the ball to stay in play and time to elapse – history would repeat when denied a first cap against South Africa in Washington the following summer – and instead Wainwright made his regional debut as a replacement at Cardiff Blues the following weekend.

He has been a fixture in the side ever since, racking up 42 Dragons appearances to go along with his 17 caps.

"His first start was at Newcastle away in the Challenge Cup and he was just everywhere, remembered Benjamin.

"Physically he is build for the game of rugby and I haven't come across a player who is so fit and can go again and again. He's just kept getting better and better."

Benjamin was three years above Wainwright at Bassaleg Comprehensive but had quickly learnt about a talent who was to become a back-row teammate, and rival, at Rodney Parade.

South Wales Argus:

"We have a social sevens team – the Rooster 7s – and I remember seeing him play and telling James Chapron (Dragons academy manager) that he was really good," said Benjamin, a Wales international in the shorter format.

"You always knew that he had something, and he's proving that now. He has been brilliant and while he is a quiet character, he has the confidence and self belief to go out there and mix it with the best.

"It's no surprise to so many people that have worked with him through the years that he is doing so well."

The skinny teen who turned up at Whiteheads is about to slug it out with the Springbok bruisers on the biggest stage.