PROP Sam Hobbs says he’s had to play catch-up to prove he is worthy of a starting spot in the Dragons’ Boxing Day date with Cardiff Blues.

The 29-year-old is named as loosehead in the Guinness PRO14 derby against the side that he left in the summer of 2016.

Hobbs has been a hit since swapping the Arms Park for Rodney Parade and featured in 27 of 32 games in his first campaign in the east.

However, the front rower needed a post-season operation of his right kneecap and only returned to the fray in the Anglo-Welsh Cup win against the Scarlets in November.

Head coach Bernard Jackman turned Brok Harris into being primarily a loosehead rather than a tighthead in the summer and he started the campaign impressively while Hobbs looked on from the sidelines.

But the South African will now miss much of the season after needing a shoulder operation, giving Hobbs the chance to reclaim the 1 jersey.

“As soon as the fixtures come out you always look to the Christmas derbies as the big ones that you hope to be involved in,” said the prop.

“Personally, being injured for the first few months of the season it was a big goal of mine to get back into the squad for these games coming up.

“I was out for the first few months of the season and the work that the guys put in has forced me to catch up a bit.

“I was off the pace in the first few games and I still have got to work hard to catch these guys up and improve myself.

“It’s well documented with the style that Bernard wants to play, it’s all about repeatability as a front five forward. It’s about making intense contacts and getting up off the floor as quickly as you can to do another one without dropping off.”

The Dragons haven’t won a PRO14 derby since beating Cardiff Blues – and Hobbs – in the 2014 Boxing Day clash at the Arms Park.

Their losing streak has been extended by losses at the Blues and Ospreys earlier this season while their last big derby success came against their rivals from the capital in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup in 2015.

Hobbs said: “I can remember that game well after coming on at half-time, Rodney Parade was bouncing that day!

“Traditionally everyone gets really excited about the Christmas derbies and hopefully the way that the boys have been playing will get a bit of a buzz.

“If we can get Rodney Parade really bouncing over the next two games then it can help swing things 10 or 15 per cent our way.

“We need to learn the lessons from the first round of derbies. The boys put a really good shift in at the Arms Park for 50 minutes and we just couldn’t maintain it.

“Hopefully we’ve improved since then and we have to put an 85-minute performance in.”

Hobbs has reaped the rewards of moving from the Blues to the Dragons in order to establish himself as a first-choice prop.

The Brecon native came through the ranks in Cardiff but despite racking up 126 appearances was never able to enjoy a consistent run in the side, partly because of the presence of Wales legend Gethin Jenkins.

The 37-year-old loosehead returns on the bench for the visitors on Boxing Day and they are captained by hooker Matthew Rees, 37, although 40-year-old Taufaʻao Filise is suspended.

“I spent a lot of my career down there with those guys and training with them every day you see how well they look after themselves,” said Hobbs.

“They could physically keep going for another few seasons, I’ve got no doubt. In the front row they say the older you are, the more dark arts that you pick up and they have certainly got a few between the three of them.

“It’s quite hard sometimes because as a youngster coming through you tend not to play as much as you want to, but I always used to think that I was in a better position than being in other teams because I was learning from Gethin about scrums, mauls and around the field defensively.

“It’s well known that he is pretty much an extra back rower, so I was trying to pick up one percenters to use in my career, especially at the contact area.

“More than anything it was a positive for me. They have always had a good pathway there and I can only see it a positive for the young guys to be learning from Lions, Wales and Tongan internationals.

“They are going to get a lot of learning and the fact is that these guys won’t play 25 times a season and the young players will get game time.”