THE battle for the Argus Dragon of the Year trophy is shaping up to be a fierce one this season but one man is making an impressive play for the unsung hero honour.

Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright swept the board at the Rodney Parade region's end of season awards in May and also scooped the honour that is voted for by Argus readers.

Sam Davies, Taine Basham and Leon Brown look to be the front-runners for the top gongs this time around after excellent starts to the campaign but one man has, as ever, quietly gone about his business.

Lock Matthew Screech is an ever-present this season and has racked up more minutes than any other Dragon, shouldering a heavy burden in the absence of injured locks Cory Hill and Brandon Nansen.

South Wales Argus:

"I am enjoying it, the same happened at the end of last season when Cory was injured," said Screech, who has played 1,012 of 1,120 possible minutes. "I am playing quite a lot and long may that continue."

The 27-year-old from Porth came through the Cardiff Blues academy but has quietly become a Dragons stalwart with 138 appearances since heading to Rodney Parade in 2013.

He initially signed with Bedwas with the aim of training with the region and earning a full-time deal, something that then head coach Lyn Jones swiftly offered.

Screech has since worked under four bosses – Kingsley Jones, Bernard Jackman, caretaker coach Ceri Jones and now Dean Ryan – so is well placed to see the strides made in the first half of the campaign.

South Wales Argus:

"The boys have done really well and have bought into what Dean has brought here," said the lock, a member of the Wales team that beat New Zealand in the 2012 World Rugby U20 Championship.

"We have had a good few 50/50 games and in the past we have lost them, we are showing character and have come on leaps and bounds.

"I can see us getting better and better, but Dean keeps us grounded and it's totally different to what we have had in the past.

"He obviously knows how to run a professional team and is running it really well at the moment. He is an experienced man and exactly what we needed."

The European Challenge Cup was an escape from league troubles in 2015 and 2016 when the Dragons made the semi-finals.

They head to Castres this weekend on the brink of earning more knockout rugby. Victory would secure Pool One top spot while any bonuses would help their bid for one of the best runners-up berths in the last eight.

The Dragons have won three times on French soil – Bayonne in 2007, Stade Francais in 2014 and Pau in 2015.

Arguably a win in Castres would better any of those successes given that the 2018 Top 14 champions have not lost a home European tie in four years.

It's a formidable task for Ryan's men but Screech is relishing everything about another experience of rugby in France.

South Wales Argus:

"They have a good record at home and it will be a tough game, as it was four years ago when we lost by a few points," said the lock, who started in the 32-29 defeat.

"I remember doing the warm-up and I couldn't hear what Cory was saying when he was calling the lineouts because they were so loud.

"I am expecting the same again and I'm looking to enjoy it. It's one of those occasions, like Clermont Auvergne last season, in stadiums that you love playing in.

"It's mad. They are big up front, aggressive and the crowd is always amazing. When you walk into the stadium there are thousands of people around like an international game.

"I love every time we go there and we have always tended to do quite well in those games in France.

It's a little bit different and freshens it up, they are great occasions and games like Pau and Stade Francais stick in my mind. They are games you want to be a part of."

If the Dragons are to upset the odds at the Stade Pierre-Fabre then they will need Screech & Co to stand tall in the tight.

"Every time you play a French team they are big boys. You know what you are going to get from them, it's straight down your throat from the forwards so it's about fronting up as we have been doing," he said.

"We have put ourselves in a good position in the group with two games to go. We are gunning for the win."