IT’S approaching awards season and one mainstay of the Dragons pack should be a contender for more than just the unsung hero gong.

The eye-catching displays of Aaron Wainwright, who has played 14 times despite a late start because of the World Cup then a strong Six Nations, will probably earn the big award of player of the year.

However, give some consideration to Rhodri Jones before casting a vote – the loosehead has quietly had a superb campaign in the front row.

There were some high-profile signings made in the summer of 2022 – Sio Tomkinson, Bradley Roberts, JJ Hanrahan, Max Clark, Sean Lonsdale and George Nott.

There was probably more excitement about the arrival of Rob Evans from the Scarlets than there was about Jones from the Ospreys, yet he is the ex-Wales loosehead who is still at Rodney Parade making an impact.

The 32-year-old from Machynlleth will make his 31st appearance for the club on his return to Swansea this Saturday and will be a key figure in the bid to upset the odds.

South Wales Argus: INFLUENTIAL: Dragons prop Rhodri JonesINFLUENTIAL: Dragons prop Rhodri Jones (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Jones, slender and tall for a prop, has scrummaged solidly this season and has a pretty healthy penalty count of 11 for a front rower, especially given the minutes he has racked up.

The front rower has featured in 17 of 20 games in all competitions this season after being rested for Pau away, missing the trip to Ulster because of a concussion and sitting out Benetton away.

He has started 13 games and mixed strong set-piece efforts with a big work rate around the park.

Jones might not be the biggest of carriers but he is the top-tackling prop in the URC with 119 (success 91 per cent), one ahead of WP Nel and ranked 34th overall (second on the Dragons leaderboard behind Sean Lonsdale on 121).

He has followed in the footsteps of the iconic Brok Harris by racking up the games and being appreciated by his teammates.

Keep it up and in a few years he might even get the acclaim that the South African still enjoys from the Rodney Parade terrace when visiting as a Stormer.

There was a reunion last Friday when Harris & Co were pushed all the way by the Dragons despite an unfair scoreline of 44-21.

South Wales Argus: INFLUENTIAL: Dragons prop Rhodri JonesINFLUENTIAL: Dragons prop Rhodri Jones (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Jones was to the fore with an excellent outing versus World Cup winning Springbok Frans Malherbe.

Replacement Rodrigo Martinez found things tougher on his introduction, although to be fair to the Argentinean a lock shortage meant there was no fresh power from the bench behind the front row.

Jones is setting the standards at loosehead with Martinez, Dylan Kelleher-Griffiths, Josh Reynolds and Wales Under-20s international chasing next season.

“He came to us from the Ospreys with niggles here, there and everywhere,” said head coach Dai Flanagan. “He has been fit all season, he is the ultimate pro and we have managed him superbly well.

“I am sure Rodrigo will want to push him hard next season because he wants to be number one at the Dragons. He will go after Rhodri from day dot and that will be great for us.”

The key for the other hopefuls is to be clean – and aggressive.

“Rhodri just doesn’t make errors and sometimes that can be the biggest strength,” said Flanagan. “Defensively he is very good for a loosehead and likes to hit.

“We need to be a region that hits hard, there is a South African term that we need to embed about ‘effing people up’. We have the ability to do that because the players in our group can be physical.”

Wales appear to be looking to the future but the Dragons are reaping the rewards of a 24-times capped prop becoming a real clubman.