THERE have been times throughout Lloyd Fairbrother's spell at the Dragons when the prop wondered about his future at Rodney Parade, yet the Cornishman hits a milestone on Saturday thanks to his love of being the underdog.

The 27-year-old, who signed from Exeter in the summer of 2014, will become a centurion in the European Challenge Cup encounter with Northampton at Franklin's Gardens (kick-off 3pm).

The prop, who qualifies for Wales through his mother from Blaenavon, has racked up the appearances consistently since making the move but there has always been the nagging feeling that coaches have been looking for more.

That was the case last summer when Fairbrother was on the receiving end of some home truths from new boss Bernard Jackman, who wanted more impact from his front rower.

The prop showed his ability to bounce back once again by becoming a mainstay of the matchday squad to feature in 29 of 31 games.

Dragons coaches have brought in plenty of tightheads since his arrival, Shaun Knight, Craig Mitchell, Dan Suter, Nicky Thomas and most recently Aaron Jarvis, plus Wales prop Leon Brown has come through the academy, yet Fairbrother is still standing.

He said: "This is my fifth season and every summer there have been a couple of new tightheads floating around, but I am still here! I like that challenge and being the slight underdog."

The old Dragons honours system, changed last season, toasted starts rather than appearances, and on that front Fairbrother is still lagging behind with just 39 of his 99 games being with 3 on his back rather than 18.

But since last December he has been Jackman and forwards coach Ceri Jones' go-to man – albeit aided by Brown's injury misfortune and Brok Harris' switch to loosehead – with 18 starts from 30 games.

When asked if he thought he would hit a ton, Fairbrother said: "Honestly, probably not because I've had a slightly up and down career at the Dragons.

"My first season I was on fire and played loads, second season I didn't really play at all. Then I found myself back in and last year was 29 games and it really pushed me on.

"It's brilliant to be hitting 100 appearances, I am really happy with that and I feel like I have become a senior player after I joined as a young guy.

"I just have to keep on delivering because one bad game and you are out."

It's not just a mullet that Fairbrother has lost since heading to Wales, the burly prop has shed a few pounds and no longer declares a love for pasties on his Twitter bio.


"This year (props) Ryan Bevington and Aaron Jarvis came in, both internationals, and they were so fit," said the tighthead.

"I sort of had to take a step back, look at how fit and mobile they are, and realise that I had to step it up even more, and I have done that.

"They both weight 117, 118 kilos and I am 122, so it made sense to lose a few and the fitness has followed. I definitely feel better for it.

"It was down to a little bit of clean eating, extra reps, a bit more fitness… and it definitely helps with GPS scores because they track everything!

"They track how far you run, how fast you are running and you can't hide – the stats don't lie unfortunately!"

Fairbrother will be to the fore over the coming weeks with the Dragons heading into a tough period against Northampton, Clermont Auvergne and their three Welsh rivals without influential props Brok Harris (knee) and Brown (thumb).

It leaves Fairbrother, loosehead Bevington and versatile Jarvis as the prime options with Gerard Ellis, Josh Reynolds, Thomas and Chris Coleman as their back-ups.

The tight five are sure to be put under pressure on Saturday against a Northampton side who will put the squeeze on in a bid for a victory that would end the Dragons' hopes of qualification from Pool One.

"It's a massive challenge against an English pack – scrum, maul, pick and go. It's all up front and we have to step up to it," said Fairbrother.

"We need to win good ball and get some dominance, because that's a good entry point. Win a scrum penalty and there's a kick to the corner and we can do set attacks and unleash our backs.

"When there is a penalty against the head, a maul not quite getting moving, a messy lineout, it just messes up everything, so that's our responsibility."

The Dragons name their team at midday tomorrow but are resting Wales internationals Cory Hill, Elliot Dee, Ross Moriarty, Aaron Wainwright and Tyler Morgan.