LONG before Elliot Dee reached over for the bonus point last Saturday it was clear that the Guinness PRO14 is going to have new whipping boys this season.

The Dragons did well for 42 minutes of their fixture against the South Africans but five league points haven’t been earned by the Rodney Parade region with such ease since a meek Treviso visited Newport in September of 2014.

The Kings have mitigating circumstances after a late arrival to European competition and a drain of their talent following their Super Rugby axe. It’s fair to assume 2017/18 will be a write-off.

They will get better – and the Dragons will be tested in Port Elizabeth on the first weekend of March – but it will take something calamitous for any of the other 13 clubs in Conferences A and B to have a worse record come the end of April.

But while the Kings are far from regal, their compatriots are looking like they could well be contenders for the crown.

The Cheetahs have made a superb start to the season and look like prime candidates to prosper from the Ospreys’ worrying start in Conference A; attendances may be a worry but they are getting it right on the field.

As Steve Tandy’s men, Leinster and Zebre have found out, the team from Bloemfontein are going to be seriously hard to beat on South African soil that will get even harder as our winter arrives.

If the Cheetahs, who should prosper from 15 points from three clashes with the Kings, can beat Glasgow at Toyota Stadium tomorrow then, much to the relief of those who rushed through the PRO14 expansion, they will really be pole position for the one play-off berth of the six that is up for grabs.

We are only just in October but Conference B is all about placings with the Scarlets, Ulster and Leinster sure to finish in the top three.

Munster and Glasgow are shoo-ins for spots one and two in Conference A, leaving the Cheetahs likely to come third unless the Ospreys sort themselves out.

But while the PRO14 still has an element of the haves and have-nots about it, there are some encouraging signs.

We are not quite able to use that adage of anybody being able to beat anybody but things are getting better, with Conor O’Shea likely to be wearing a content grin.

A frequent stick used to beat the Dragons is that they mix it with the Italians down at the bottom of the table but come the run-in new boss Bernard Jackman could well be attempting to still be bracketed with Treviso and Zebre.

The former beat Edinburgh at Myreside in round three, backed it up with a deserved win against the Ospreys and then pushed Glasgow hard last weekend with the title-chasing Warriors only being six points clear with 12 minutes left.

The latter’s start to the season has been even more pleasing given their tumultuous summer in which players weren’t paid and training was chaotic until the Italian rugby federation took control.

A hammering by the Scarlets in round two had one fearing for what was to come but instead, with influential captain George Biagi to the fore, they have rallied with an encouraging display at the Cheetahs, a win against the Kings and then last week they upset Ulster in Parma.

It was a quite stunning scalp and the Italian duo are no different to the Dragons (or Connacht and Edinburgh) – they want to have a proud home record and put the odd nose out of joint on their travels.

As ever, consistency will be their problem and there is always the potential for an absolute shocker.

But with O’Shea, one of the game’s sharpest minds, in charge of the national side there is hopefully going to be an improvement in structures that make Treviso and Zebre fitter, more professional and more competitive.

That is essential if the PRO14 is to flourish because, and some hate to hear this, at present it is nowhere near as good as the Aviva Premiership.

Every league has games that are stinkers – and Wasps versus Bath was certainly one of those on Sunday – but the English have a thriving, vibrant competition.

They also have their haves and have-nots with London Irish and Worcester likely to battle to beat the drop and avoid being the side swapping with big-spending Bristol.

But they have six genuine contenders for the play-offs - champions Exeter, Europe’s best Saracens, Wasps, Leicester, Bath, Northampton - while Newcastle are flying high and Sale, Harlequins and Gloucester are no mugs.

On any given weekend there is only one game, perhaps two, that you can confidently back the winner.

The PRO14 needs to get to that stage – reason why further expansion to North America is risky, despite the financial lure – and the Welsh sides, and especially the Dragons, need to play their part.

The Rodney Parade region are undergoing big change and fingers crossed can be more of a force in coming seasons.

They have made a steady start under Jackman but Connacht and the Kings were games you’d expect them to win; in all likelihood 2017/18 will still contain more troughs than peaks.

Rodney Parade has traditionally been home of the Welsh regional straggler and even in this season of change they need to record the sort of result that Zebre enjoyed against Ulster.

A Dragons side toppling a big gun in Newport, something that hasn’t happened since Leinster in January, 2016, is needed by a competition that has been easy to kick.