BEFORE a ball was kicked it was prudent to treat the Dragons’ season as a transitional one and before a ball was kick they suffered a mammoth blow in their bid to keep the pain to a minimum.

Three years ago the Rodney Parade region suffered a costly injury when they played their final friendly in Ebbw Vale with Pat Leach sustaining serious knee damage.

History repeated itself a fortnight ago with Nic Cudd lasting just 12 minutes as a second half sub at Eugene Cross Park.

A scan and a specialist will reveal the full extent of the damage but new head coach Bernard Jackman stated on Saturday that the openside flanker will be out for most of the campaign.

The Dragons have a paper thin squad and it’s alarming to have just Ollie Griffiths and James Benjamin as the only senior specialist options for most of what will be at least a 31-game season.

Even more alarming is the loss of a rugby warrior who has the respect of teammates and opponents alike for his sheer bloody-mindedness without the ball.

Cudd has been nothing short of sensational since heading east from Llanelli in 2012.

Despite being in arguably the most perilous of positions on the field (front rowers will be snorting their derision at such a statement) he has racked up 119 appearances out of a possible 153 in all competitions.

Polite and shy, the softly-spoken west Walian does his talking loudly on the pitch.

Bernard Jackman has hammered home a desire to play a more expansive game in the coming season, welcome words given that the Dragons were ranked joint 10th for tries last term and were bottom in 2016.

But the Irishman has been quick to point out that it will take time to establish new attacking and defensive structures while Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Martyn Phillips said himself in the special pre-season supplement in Friday’s Argus that “no doubt there will be tough times ahead”.

The Dragons finished one from bottom of the Guinness PRO12 last season and haven’t had the luxury of a major revamp to their squad, something that will take place next summer.

In the meantime we should expect more tough encounters against Leinster, Ulster, the Scarlets, Glasgow, Munster the Ospreys, the sextet I expect to make the PRO14 play-offs.

This season is the start of a rebuilding process for the Dragons and at times they will need to do some damage limitation.

It’s in such situations that Cudd excels.

On countless occasions over the past five seasons the flanker has ensured that defeats haven’t been hammerings.

Not only that, his defensive brilliance and spot-on decision-making under pressure have helped make the difference in tight victories.

There is no question that Griffiths is the best all-round back rower on the Dragons’ books but it was Cudd’s presence in the 7 jersey that allowed the Newbridge forward to go on the rampage in his breakthrough campaign that ended with a Wales cap against Tonga in June.

I’d suggest that no Dragons forward is more comfortable with ball in hand than Benjamin, who spent last season on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit with Wales. I mean it as a compliment when I say he’s like a budget Justin Tipuric.

The flanker from Rogerstone is back in from the cold and could turn out to be an important figure in Jackman’s attacking plan.

But Cudd, while diminutive and not exactly the most explosive carrier, is hardly a slouch with the ball, can be a good linkman and is the sort of player that allows the flashy to be flashy.

However, it’s in defence where he comes alive and the Dragons must figure out how to cope without the man who specialises in getting them out of a pickle.

I’d imagine that at times last weekend when Leinster were marching towards the line with seeming ease, the limpet-like Cudd could have go in there and earned some respite either through a jackal or just slowing things down.

If the Dragons progress towards the higher end of the PRO14 then in years to come a player like Cudd could be in danger of being marginalised but in the meantime his absence will be felt badly.

Last season Kingsley Jones suffered the double loss of his two best attacking threats in Hallam Amos and Ashton Hewitt, this season Jackman must cope without his best defender.

South Wales Argus:

FIRST impressions count and for quite some time Rodney Parade has been in need of some TLC.

While previous regime couldn’t find enough pennies in the pot to provide it, the Welsh Rugby Union have already given the famous ground a bit of a makeover.

The hybrid pitch and artificial grass surrounding certainly has the striking effect that you’d expect for £750,000, a sum that will have raised an eyebrow or two in Llanelli, Cardiff and Swansea.

But that’s just the start of it and work has begun on the little things that make a huge difference in making a stadium attractive to punters.

It’s here where the governing body would be wise to think carefully in what must be balancing act.

Even before taking control of the Dragons and buying Rodney Parade, WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips was talking about the 73 clubs of Gwent.

That is reflected in new vibrant boards placed around the ground featuring the new Dragons logo in their colours from Aberbargoed to Ynysddu.

They certainly brighten the place up, yet it should also be remembered what one club has given up for what many believe to be the greater good.

Newport’s name may no longer be above the door at Rodney Parade but it is essential that it still feels like home for the Black and Ambers.

They have lost their asset so that the Dragons can live on at NP19. There may be 73 clubs in Gwent but nobody has given more for the Dragons than the one that is now a tenant.

They face an uncertain future as they come to terms with the new relationship and how they can afford to play at Rodney Parade; Premiership rugby takes place with everybody sat in a Bisley Stand that was built for the Dragons but led to Newport debt.

The WRU may be keen on reaching out beyond the city boundaries but they simply must make sure that they build bridges with Newport, whose memorabilia has been packed away after being moved from the clubhouse.

Pretty much all the history to do with Rodney Parade to date is in black and amber, no other colours.

In building a brighter future for the Dragons the WRU must be respectful of the club whose ground they bought.