AFTER going from being the Dragons' Mr Dependable to the forgotten man, Nic Cudd is back fit and determined to add to Bernard Jackman's back row headache.

The 29-year-old openside has been a mainstay of the side since heading east from Llanelli in 2012, playing in 22 games in his first campaign, then 20, 25, 25 and 27.

Despite putting his body in perilous positions at the contact area, the flanker played in 119 of 153 games in all competitions.

However, last season was a complete write-off thanks to a pre-season knee injury suffered in the final tune-up against Glasgow in Ebbw Vale.

"You always go with your gut feeling and at the time I knew it was bad. I felt something pop and I had done it before, seven years ago, on my other leg," said the flanker.

"You kind of talk yourself out of it a bit because it's one of those injuries where there is initial pain but then it eases off.

"I had a scan on the Monday and then on the Tuesday it was revealed that the ACL had torn."

Cudd had patella tendon put in his left knee ligaments seven years ago and when reconstructing the right his surgeon grafted a bit of hamstring.

After the torture of rehab, the flanker is back in with the squad for pre-season training with the aim of getting the nod for the opening round of the Guinness PRO14.

"I just want to take it step by step. Be fit to train properly, be fit to play properly and then hopefully put my name in the hat for selection," said Cudd, who last played a competitive game against Cardiff Blues in Caerphilly on May 6, 2017.

"I want to get back and play. I was sick of being in the injured group; you are more isolated and stuck in that gym nearly all day until you can do a bit of running outside.

"It's something that you have to be patient with, it was frustrating but it happens and you have to get on with it.

"Touch wood, since I have been at the Dragons I have been pretty good with injuries. I have had the odd thing but nothing that kept me out for that long."

It meant that Cudd, who has so frequently saved the Dragons' bacon with timely turnovers, watched on while his teammates struggled to just two wins in the PRO14.

He said: "It was frustrating because you want the team to do well but, looking forward, the big positive was that so many young boys played and experienced PRO14 and European Challenge Cup level. They should all be better for that now this season.

"With the new signings and boys coming back to full fitness after injuries there is a lot more strength in depth."

That is especially the case in the back row where Cudd is joined by Ross Moriarty, Ollie Griffiths, Aaron Wainwright, James Benjamin, Harrison Keddie, James Thomas, Huw Taylor, James Sheekey and the Wales Under-20s quartet of Max Williams, Lennon Greggains, Taine Basham and Ben Fry.

"The back row has already been a competitive area but it is especially competitive now with a good few boys who had opportunities last season," said Cudd, who is the Dragons' best breakdown operator.

"They have shown they can play very well while someone like Aaron Wainwright has come through and gone from strength the strength.

"There will be good competition but that's healthy for the squad as a whole. Maybe there is a variety now of different types of back rowers with ball carriers, the work horses, the boys who are good in the contact area, those that are good in the loose.

"We have a bit of everything there and it's up to Bernard then to pick his combinations but there is a variety for him. I am just glad to be fit and put my name forward to get back in the XV."