HARRI Ackerman has long been earmarked as a centre with talent but the Dragons teenager proved he also has the toughness by playing through the pain on a big occasion last season.

The 19-year-old from Newbridge made his first start for the Rodney Parade club in the New Year’s Day derby win against the Scarlets.

He produced an impressive performance that means he is likely to feature again in the key Challenge Cup clash at Zebre Parma tomorrow.

The Wales Under-20s international earned his chance after impressing for Newport RFC, where he plays alongside Dragons backs coach Matt O’Brien.

He pulled the strings in last season’s heart-breaking late loss to Cardiff in the Premiership Cup final at Principality Stadium when Ackerman gritted his teeth in a remarkable, and slightly foolish, effort.

South Wales Argus: TOUGH: Harri Ackerman (12) makes a tackle for Newport against Cardiff when he had dislocated his shoulderTOUGH: Harri Ackerman (12) makes a tackle for Newport against Cardiff when he had dislocated his shoulder (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“Harri dislocated his shoulder in the first 10 minutes and didn’t tell anyone! He played the rest of the game and then had an operation afterwards,” said O’Brien.

“You'd like players to be a little bit more honest but I quite like the toughness – he was defending next to me so was always going to have sore shoulders!”

Ackerman subsequently missed the World Rugby U20 Championship but he has been called up to the senior squad on his return.

The teenager made his debut off the bench in the Challenge Cup win against Oyonnax and then impressed against the Scarlets.

South Wales Argus: JOY: Harri Ackerman (12) celebrates the Dragons' win against the ScarletsJOY: Harri Ackerman (12) celebrates the Dragons' win against the Scarlets (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“He was outstanding in his first start for us against quality centres,” said O’Brien after Ackerman lined up versus Wales centres Johnny Williams and Joe Roberts.

“Harri certainly took his chance in a position of strength for us; he is physically gifted and can do a bit of everything.

“He has the ability to beat people with good footwork and offload while he can get out of situations where you don’t expect him to.

“Harris is very powerful and gives a bit of bang in defence and attack, he carries and collides, while he is extremely hard working with attitude that is spot-on.

“All of the players wear GPS and he ran the most high-speed metres of any centre this season. A lot of that was coming off the line and chasing kicks, stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily see unless watching on a wider lens.

“That’s all down to effort and desire, which is brilliant for a youngster and he has a bright future ahead of him. We don’t want to overhype him, and he has a lot of work to do, but he is certainly going in the right direction.”

Ackerman and fellow young gun Joe Westwood are earmarked to be senior options in midfield in the coming years along with the relatively experienced 23-year-old Aneurin Owen, stalwart Jack Dixon and club captain Steff Hughes.

Hughes is back in the mix for the trip to Parma after missing the Scarlets game with a concussion suffered at Cardiff on Boxing Day.