IT’S the end of an era at Rodney Parade as Steve Jones, the last of the original Newport Gwent Dragons, has been forced to retire due to injury.

The hooker, affectionately known as ‘Jabba’, has been a Dragons favourite since the region’s inception in 2003 and no player has worn the jersey more times than the 35-year-old.

He made 180 appearances over ten campaigns since his debut against the Ospreys nearly a decade ago.

However, he has been forced to hang up his boots, not because of the bicep injury he suffered against Treviso in December but because of a hip problem.

“I am devastated with the news and the fact that I will never put my boots on and run onto Rodney Parade with my team-mates again,” said the front row forward from Neath.

“I felt that I had another two years in me and I wanted to go on my own terms, but it wasn’t to be. My bicep is good but my hip is shot to bits.

“I have been fortunate to play and work with some great players and coaches since the inception of the Dragons, many of these players and coaches I am grateful to be able to call close friends.

“I would like to thank everyone at Rodney Parade, who have made my time such an enjoyable experience and helped me to further my rugby career.

“I would also like to thank the fans for all of their support over the years, even though I come from the Ospreys region.

“I feel that a new chapter in my life awaits my family and I, and if the next ten years are as good as the last you won’t hear me complaining.”

Jones has enjoyed plenty of tussles for the Dragons’ number 2 jersey, with Paul Young in that first season and then former All Black Tom Willis and Wales ace Lloyd Burns.

But Jabba’s energy, drive, intensity and aggression – as well as the ability to get under his opponent’s skin, a much-needed trait for a hooker – has ensured he has been a Rodney Parade mainstay.

Not only that, but he won five Wales caps and was a member of the side that suffered a pair of agonising autumn defeats in 2004, 38-36 to South Africa and 26-25 to New Zealand.

Dragons director of rugby Robert Beale admits that the talisman hooker will be a hard man to replace.

“Not only is Steve a hell of a character but he was a magnificent player who put his heart into everything over ten years,” said Beale.

“He has been a real pro and a great servant to the region and he will be missed.”