THE Dragons have never been one for January fads, New Year’s resolutions at Rodney Parade have always started with ‘in August…’.

The challenge for head coach Bernard Jackman is to break the cycle; when the Chinese year of the dog is celebrated in mid-February the region have to be showing some snarl.

In recent times the Dragons have been shocking once Auld Lang Syne has been sung and it is asking a lot for such historical failures to be suddenly changed.

In the past four seasons they have enjoyed a strong second half just once: in 2014/15 when Lyn Jones’ side won nine of 17 fixtures after the turn of the year.

In 2013/14 they won just three of 15 games, in 2015/16 it was three in 16 fixtures, last season things were simply horrendous with two successes from 15.

It’s not rocket science why this happens – the Dragons operate with a meagre budget, thus have a small squad and injuries start to take their toll as the campaign goes on, then morale plummets.

It’s no different now and the team announcements for tomorrow’s derby against the champions in Llanelli will be accompanied by a gulp.

The Dragons are without four of their quintet of Wales autumn squad members – full-back Hallam Amos, centre Tyler Morgan (both ankle), hooker Elliot Dee and tighthead Leon Brown (both concussion). The other, captain and lock Cory Hill, has been struggling with a back issue.

Flanker Ollie Griffiths, back rower Harri Keddie and wing Ashton Hewitt, players who would be pressing for a call from Warren Gatland, are also on the treatment table.

Stalwart Lewis Evans has played just once because of a Achilles and pectoral muscle injuries while the equally dependable performer Nic Cudd might squeeze a game in at the end of the campaign after rupturing knee ligaments in pre-season.

Such a list of absentees makes things tough during a hectic run of festive fixtures and then a crunch European Rugby Challenge Cup double-header with Bordeaux-Begles, but even so we need to see more from the Dragons.

This is a new era for the Dragons and the second half of 2017 brought plenty of change, primarily off the field. For on-field matters we have been asked to be patient as Jackman, who was appointed in June, puts things in place for 2018/19.

There is a new feel at the Dragons but a familiar plight in the Guinness PRO14 with only the winless Southern Kings having a worse record.

While Benetton and Edinburgh, two traditional cohorts, have pushed on impressively, we have been asked to wait our turn.

This was always going to be a from top-to-bottom job and after more than a decade of drifting we are happy to accept another year of struggling so long as there is some encouragement.

Amid absolute horror shows in Ireland, there have been some promising signs but alarmingly most of them were in the early months.

The gutsy win against Connacht, a professional job against the Kings (a first bonus-point win in the league since April, 2015), a success on the road against Enisei-STM after failing to taste victory outside of Newport in the whole of 2016/17.

These moments were before we hit November and even more heartening was the style of rugby with the Dragons chancing their arm, offloading and getting their gamebreakers involved by shifting the ball out the back to get it out wide.

But since then it has been harder to see the green shoots as injuries have taken their toll on an already thin squad.

There have been just two rather underwhelming wins (against what was basically a Scarlets Premiership Select XV in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Enisei), a botched job against Newcastle in the Challenge Cup and the agony of being forced to settle for a draw in a thriller versus Ulster.

The test for Jackman is to succeed where his predecessors have failed by preventing the season from drifting.

In recent years we have heard Lyn Jones and Kingsley Jones making post-match pledges that things will be different in the summer when new faces arrive.

In 2014 it was Lee Byrne, Aled Brew, Boris Stankovich, Ian Gough and Andy Powell that would bring a winning culture.

The following year the squad would be stronger thanks to the arrivals of Sarel Pretorius, Ed Jackson, Charlie Davies and Adam Warren.

In 2016 money was tight but the knowhow of Nick Macleod would make a difference along with the hungry for game time Sam Hobbs, Sam Beard and Craig Mitchell.

Last year the experience of Gavin Henson and Zane Kirchner was key to supplementing the young talent on the Dragons books.

This time there is genuine excitement about the arrivals of two proper big-hitters in Richard Hibbard and Ross Moriarty, a class act in Rhodri Williams plus the potential of Jordan Williams and Rhodri Davies.

Jackman will be reading from a familiar script about new signings bolstering a squad full of promising local talent but at least he appears to have the tools to make change happen, an opportunity that his predecessors never had while their hands were financially tied.

The backing that the Irishman is getting means that there will be no more excuses available in 2018/19.

The current campaign was always going to be a transitional one and in rugby union we operate in seasons rather than years like the 13-man code so goals, hopes and expectations don't just change with the binning of a calendar.

Nobody is expecting a dramatic winning streak but we need to be given the odd glimpse at the start of 2018 until the arrival of the summer sun and increased optimism.

South Wales Argus:

A POSITIVE of the Dragons’ paper-thin squad is that they have had to get their teenage kicks out of eight prospects.

Tomorrow 18-year-old flanker Taine Basham will make his debut at the Scarlets, following in the footsteps of flanker Max Williams, wing Jared Rosser, scrum-half Owain Leonard, flanker Lennon Greggains, wing Joe Goodchild, loosehead Josh Reynolds and scrum-half Dan Babos.

Three other players – wing George Gasson, flanker Aaron Wainwright, centre Connor Edwards – have made regional bows aged 20.

Asking too much of young talent against the big boys can be a dangerous thing, and in an ideal world it would be limited to Anglo-Welsh Cup encounters, but at least the Dragons are giving their bright prospects a taste of what it takes to be a pro.

Their goal in 2018 is to put the pressure on the individuals who are second or third in the senior squad depth chart.