AFTER the past few years at Rodney Parade it’s nice to dare to dream for the Dragons.

When we welcomed in 2017 with a New Year’s Day squelcher against the Ospreys it would have been far-fetched to imagine that we would be ending the year with the signing of a genuine Test beast already in the bag.

The sensational swoop/capture/whatever sporting parlance floats your boat of Ross Moriarty is quite the coup for the Dragons; a signing that makes you wonder what else is possible.

It’s also opened the floodgates and the Rodney Parade region are now saved in the phone contacts of agents where in the past the red button would have been hit as soon as an 01633 number came up.

Some of the names bandied around are bonkers – it’s almost as though the increasing but still miserly budget has been forgotten – but the Dragons are now relevant in a way that they weren’t previously.

Getting linked with Quade Cooper is ridiculous but it’s not as ridiculous as it once was.

They have made one stellar signing in Moriarty, a very good one in scrum-half Rhodri Williams and a potentially exciting one in utility back Jordan Williams.

Two project players have been brought in early to get to grips with life at the Dragons in Welsh-qualified South African centre Jarryd Sage from the Kings and Welsh centre/wing Calvin Wellington from St Helens.

These are exciting times and the rebuilding is continuing apace on and off the field.

But in a way, boss Bernard Jackman will be looking rather enviously at Richard Cockerill, who is going under the radar while starting a similar process up in Edinburgh.

The former hookers have more in common than their hairstyle and spells in France; they are engaging, blunt when needed, ambitious.

Former Toulon coach ‘Cockers’ has much more experience – he was Leicester boss when Jackman started at hooker in Leinster’s first Heineken Cup win at Murrayfield in 2009 – and he has had to tap into that knowhow to deal with some off-field challenges in Edinburgh.

But he is doing a fine job and is marrying a perfect start in the Challenge Cup with an impressive start to the Guinness PRO14, pushing Ulster for a play-off berth in Conference B and aiming for Champions Cup qualification.

Cockerill, who has his own impressive back row recruit in John Barclay, was starting with more solid foundations than Jackman but the challenges remain the same for all upwardly-mobile sides.

The Dragons have been vocal about their ambitious plans – and why not? – but it’s a tricky balancing act to combine that with tempering expectations at the start of a long and probably bumpy process.

It’s exciting for supporters to see links to megastars but in truth a bit of honest grunt is needed more badly than stardust at the moment.

While commercial clout is a welcome bonus, on-field performance is what Jackman and his new recruits will be judged on rather than the size of their Wikipedia page.

And, just like Kingsley Jones, Lyn Jones, Darren Edwards and Paul Turner before him, Jackman has to balance the books.

If the playing budget for next season is going up to £4.2million and Moriarty is taking up somewhere between 8 and 12 per cent of it, the Dragons need to get bang for their buck while leaning heavily on the local lads on their books.

Due diligence will be done and recruits will be of the right character and ready to pull their weight.

If Moriarty turns out to be the sole marquee signing in a busy period of recruitment then so be it. In fact, growing slowly but properly is probably a better way of doing things.

A player will always put the financial package at the top of the list when on the move – as they should given the length of career in an increasingly brutal sport – but the Dragons are building towards also being an attractive destination for rugby reasons.

South Wales Argus:

I’LL admit it, I feared James Benjamin was too small.

Being diminutive isn’t terminal for a back row forward but the 23-year-old from Rogerstone is not a flanker in the style of tenacious teammate Nic Cudd or as rumbustious as the likes of Michael Hooper or even Steffon Armitage.

It was wrong for Benjamin to be completely frozen out last season but it wasn’t an absolute selection disgrace given the season Ollie Griffiths had, the presence of two Dragons stalwarts in Lewis Evans and Nic Cudd, the emergence of Harrison Keddie and sheer doggedness of Nick Crosswell.

But a change of style has led to a change of fortunes – and a new contract through to 2021.

Benjamin was probably resigned to leaving Rodney Parade, perhaps on a national sevens contract, yet instead is a thriving as a leading figure at the Dragons.

He may not be quite as destructive as Cudd in defence but he is no mug, while it’s in attack that he is really thriving, getting his mitts on the ball, running, distributing, offloading and even play-calling.

It’s not like these attacking qualities have only just come to light.

"James Benjamin is a class act, you see him and think he could be a centre with that ability,” said then Ebbw Vale and now Wales Women coach Nick Wakley after leading the Dragons in the 2016 Premiership 7s.

"You can't ignore someone with that skill set; he is great at the breakdown, can offload, carry, is very good in the air at the kick-offs considering he is not a 6ft 2ins player and has a great engine.

"I can see him pushing for a starting spot at the Dragons but on the flip side could easily see him on the sevens circuit. It's a great position for him to be in, he has got two avenues to go down."

After going down the sevens route last season, thankfully Benjamin hasn’t been lost by the Dragons.

He impressed new boss Bernard Jackman in pre-season and profited from a consistent run in the side, something that his form would have demanded even if Griffiths, Cudd, Evans, Keddie and James Thomas hadn’t suffered injury misery.

Next season, when everyone is fit and Ross Moriarty arrives, Benjamin may well have to spend more time on the outside looking in again.

But the flanker – and he is an openside, not a number eight – will head into the campaign safe in the knowledge that his ball skills provides a point of difference.