DRAGONS seniors had to make all the right noises when selected for the Celtic Cup last year, keeping hidden the disappointment at seeing their name next to those of the next generation.

The 2018 tournament was one that no Guinness PRO14 hopeful really wanted to be involved in, but this season opportunity genuinely knocks, this time it will really be a chance to impress the management.

The World Cup means that we still have a long time to wait until the first game of Dean Ryan's reign against Munster in Limerick on the last weekend of September.

The Dragons returned for pre-season training seven weeks ago and still have eight to go until they can start the final preparations for Thomond Park. The intensity is ramping up at Ystrad Mynach but the first PRO14 whistle is still some way off.

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However, before that comes the Celtic Cup and although it will be

Luke Narraway calling the shots

for the development competition, Ryan is sure to be watching with interest.

The Dragons seniors have announced just one friendly, against the Scarlets at Rodney Parade, before their Munster opener.

That means the Celtic Cup teams are likely to be slightly stronger with a handful more experienced players slotting in next to the region's prospects.

Japan 2019 means that there are fewer clashes and those selected won't be looking on enviously at those preparing for first team action.

Last season's Celtic Cup opener against Cardiff Blues A was on the weekend of the home PRO14 meeting with the Southern Kings.

The Connacht Eagles game clashed with Leinster, Munster with Zebre, Ulster Ravens with Glasgow, Leinster A with Cardiff Blues and Scarlets A with Timisoara Saracens.

This time around the only clashes are the Scarlets friendly,

when the regions will lock horns in a Newport double-header

, and the encounters with Leinster and the Ospreys in the final two rounds.

That leaves four fixtures where those with genuine aspirations of forcing their way into the matchday 23 for Munster will take to the field.

This is the perfect opportunity for those who find themselves third in the depth chart to make a statement to Ryan and his coaches.

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Arwel Robson is behind new recruit Sam Davies and Josh Lewis, who finished last season impressively, in the battle for the 10 jersey.

The 22-year-old from Penallta has suffered from injury misfortune and knows he needs to go from player of potential to pulling the strings with maturity this season.

There is a scramble to be Rhodri Williams' back-up at scrum-half with Tavis Knoyle and Luke Baldwin, on loan from Worcester, joined by Wales Under-20s internationals Daf Buckland and Dan Babos.

Jack Cosgrove signed from Worcester this summer and the loosehead knows Ryan Bevington and Brok Harris are ahead of him.

Even in the absence of Wales stars Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright, the Dragons are blessed with back row options.

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That means James Benjamin, Huw Taylor, Max Williams and the trio of Taine Basham, Lennon Greggains and Ben Fry will want to put the heat on Ollie Griffiths, Harri Keddie and Lewis Evans.

Connor Edwards endured a frustrating 2018/19 after impressing in the second half of the previous campaign but the 22-year-old centre from Croesyceiliog knows that nobody is nailed on at 12.

The Dragons look a bit thin for cover in the back three but have a glut of promising prospects – Will Talbot-Davies, Rio Dyer, Joe Goodchild, Deon Smith and James McCarthy, who has returned from Munster – looking to show that they can step up and be regulars for Ryan.

It's not just the hopefuls that could do with the hit-out – perhaps it will be a valuable opportunity for one of the Dragons' shoo-ins.

Wing Ashton Hewitt is back after the shoulder issues that denied him a first Wales cap and led to a season on the sidelines.

The 24-year-old from Newport provided the Dragons with a ginormous boost when he signed a contract extension and when fit is a certain starter, but it could be a chance to get his fast feet moving before Thomond.

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The same could apply for Brandon Nansen, who was just starting to hit his straps when a knee injury ended his season in Llanelli in January.

The Samoa lock looks set to miss out on the World Cup and will be keen to show he should be partnering Matthew Screech while Cory Hill is in Japan.

The Celtic Cup provides a valuable bridge between Premiership standard and professional rugby but in World Cup year the tournament can be especially useful.

Former Dragons boss Paul Turner frequently used to grumble about the value of friendlies and Ryan will be relieved that he hasn't suffered the misfortune of his predecessor Jackman, who inherited encounters against Exeter, Montpellier, Northampton and Glasgow to head into his first campaign on the back of four drubbings.

Last season a late rally when Gloucester took their foot off the gas probably fooled a few of us, so eager were we for encouragement.

It's dubious how much can be gleaned from pre-season encounters but the Celtic Cup is preferable to fixtures when there are rolling subs and squads of 28, games that inevitably drift to their conclusion.

Ryan probably already has a XV in mind for Munster and Zebre away at the start of the season but three of four good showings for Narraway's team in tournament rugby will do the power of good as hopefuls attempt to make the director of rugby change his mind.