WITH 2,158 minutes of the Dragons' season gone and just two left, Richard Hibbard was still flinging himself about like it was September.

The hooker found the ball coming his way on the left wing at Principality Stadium and promptly smashed into his former Wales teammates Jonathan Davies and Leigh Halfpenny in a huge collision.

Seconds later Matthew Screech powered over from close range, swiftly followed by Jason Tovey's superb conversion to secure a memorable 34-32 victory against the Scarlets.

That first Judgement Day success was a wonderful high in a campaign full of Guinness PRO14 disappointment in which the Dragons failed to live up to the expectations of last summer.

If they are to change that next season then they need those that headed through the door with Hibbard to match the 2013 Lions hero's efforts.

After a flood of new recruits last summer there will be a trickle in the coming weeks; money is tight at Rodney Parade and there won't be the need for as many name badges and welcome packs.

The 2018 influx was 14-strong but this time the number of new signings will be counted on one hand, with it being no secret that the Dragons hope to have Ospreys and Wales fly-half Sam Davies as one of those digits.

The new boss, set to be Dean Ryan unless there is a late change of heart or contractual spanner in the works, will be working with those already on the books.

He will want to shape the squad to be his own but budget limitations will ensure that it is a slow process.

That means that the Dragons need to get a tune out of those that were brought in by Bernard Jackman last summer, with the standards set by Hibbard.

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Of the 14 that arrived last summer, the 35-year-old had the biggest impact on the field as well as off it.

I'll admit that I had some reservations when the former Lions hooker arrived from Gloucester on a three-year deal.

The manner that he has played the game since his Ospreys debut in 2004 – obliterating carriers, running full pelt into contact – made you worry that there wasn't much left in the tank.

Signed for his leadership, one feared that he could suffer the same fate as Lee Byrne, who was unable to have a triumphant farewell at the Dragons because of injury.

But Hibbard was a massive hit, playing in 23 of 27 games and forming a strong combination with Wales hooker Elliot Dee.

He led the side in the absence of Cory Hill, spoke impressively in challenging times and racked up 854 minutes out in the middle in the PRO14. Only two Dragons forwards beat that tally – tighthead Lloyd Fairbrother (869) and flanker Aaron Wainwright (1,005).

Hibbard provided plenty of bang for his buck to exceed expectations in his first campaign at Rodney Parade, and plenty of his fellow recruits were steady enough.

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It is telling that scrum-half Rhodri Williams was in the running for the coaches' player of the year honour at the end of season awards night after missing just two games, both in the European Challenge Cup.

However, his form was solid rather than spectacular (a victim of the Dragons' fly-half worries?), meaning he hasn't forced his way back into the Wales reckoning in World Cup year.

There is more to come from the talented 26-year-old and the same can be said for Jordan Williams, who provided flashes of brilliance and scored wonderful tries against Leinster and Southern Kings.

He played 26 times in his first campaign, 18 of them starts from full-back, but like his namesake must go up a few more gears in 2019/20 to help fill the gap left by Hallam Amos.

When it comes to Josh Lewis, the fly-half must pick up where he left off after a strong finish to the campaign. Hopefully his task will be to put the heat on new recruit Davies.

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Then there is Ross Moriarty, one of the finest back row forwards in Europe who played 20 times in 2018/19.

That eight of those appearances were in the red of Wales shows that his signing on big wages wasn't the wisest use of the Dragons' small budget, but that is not the 25-year-old's fault.

It's to Moriarty's credit that he didn't shirk his regional responsibilities after becoming a Grand Slam winner in order to protect his World Cup bid.

Japan 2019 means he won't be a leading figure for the first half of the campaign but the Dragons need to see the powerful back rower finish his two-year deal with a flourish.

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Three other international forwards arrived last summer – props Aaron Jarvis and Ryan Bevington plus lock Brandon Nansen – yet all were hindered by injury.

Loosehead Bevington was the unluckiest, as he was hitting fine form when concussion derailed his campaign, but the region needs them all to step up.

The same can be said of twice-capped wing Dafydd Howells, whose season rather tailed off after arriving from the Ospreys.

Along with the internationals, Jackman also recruited some fringe players that he hoped would push to become regulars.

Scrum-half Rhodri Davies was a victim of Tavis Knoyle's resurgence and will be at Cornish Pirates next season while hooker Rhys Lawrence and blindside/lock Huw Taylor provided what was expected, the former was a solid back-up to Hibbard and Dee while the latter was a new version of the dependable James Thomas.

Then there was Jacob Botica and Tiaan Loots, two arrivals from RGC 1404 that didn't play a minute. One felt sorry for centre Loots, who looked good in pre-season only to be hit by injury, but there must be questions about whether they will return or look for a new challenge after a frustrating season.

The two Gogs were definitely misses but the Dragons didn't have enough definite hits from their last recruitment drive.

The jury is out on the majority of the signings but there is still time to change that and become roaring successes.

The Dragons will start next season without their World Cup contingent of Cory Hill, Dee, Moriarty, hopefully Aaron Wainwright and perhaps Leon Brown and Samoa's Nansen.

Those that arrived last summer have a big role to play in ensuring they return to a side on the up.