A LOT has changed since I was last captain of Newport Gwent Dragons, as I saw when I was at Rodney Parade in the week.

After Newport RFC training I saw a picture on a wall of the Dragons squad from 2012/13 and there were only five ‘survivors’ – me, Adam Hughes, Phil Price, Jack Dixon and Hallam Amos.

I’ve got four years more experience behind me and I also think we are in better shape to have a better season than back then.

There are more senior players in this squad with some older heads to go along with our young Welsh internationals and promising players.

We’ve got strength in depth when it comes to players and I also think we have strength in depth off the field; back in 2012 it was pretty much just Darren Edwards and Rob Appleyard but now there is Kingsley Jones, Ceri Jones and Shaun Connor with help from Richie Rees and Jason Strange.

Of course every team is optimistic at the start of September but I feel that we have it in us to have a much better season after we struggled in the Guinness Pro12 last year.

As I said, we’ve got a strong squad and having 30, if not more, players who are capable of starting, means we are in a good place.

I know personally that I’ve got to impress when I get on the field – club captain or not, if I don’t perform I won’t get picked.

I missed the Exeter friendly and Ollie Griffiths was outstanding at blindside flanker, Nic Cudd was

Nic Cudd who was superb at openside while Ed Jackson put in a big performance at number eight.

Plenty of boys put their hands up for selection in pre-season and the coaches had some tough calls to make yesterday and me being on the bench shows the competition in the back row alone.

It’s a long season so everyone will have to play their part and keep pressuring teammates in the battle for starts.

I’m just glad to be back out there and can’t wait to pull on the jersey for the first time since the loss to the Scarlets at Judgement Day.

It’s going to be a tough start against Ulster, who are among the favourites for the title, but it’s always great to go to Ravenhill (I still can’t get used to it being Kingspan Stadium!).

It’s a formidable place to go but one of my favourites with the stands being packed; the atmosphere is amazing and it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you hear them belting out ‘Stand Up for the Ulstermen’.

We’ve not won there since 2008 but we’re confident after the way that pre-season went. We beat Cardiff Blues in good fashion and were right in the game against Exeter for about an hour.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement but our attacking play is looking good, the set piece has been pretty solid, the work ethic is good and there is plenty of enthusiasm.

I guess that not many will be giving us a chance in Belfast but that doesn't matter as long as the party travelling believe we can get the victory, and get the momentum for the start of the season.