THE countdown clock to the World Cup is starting to tick louder and louder for the Dragons’ batch of Wales hopefuls.

Those currently in the Test squad know that they must make every minute count; those just outside it know time is running out.

This time next year the jostling for places will be intense as Warren Gatland mulls over his 31-strong squad for Japan 2019 and the Rodney Parade region will be hoping to provide a handful of players.

Yet none of their squad will be sleeping easily the night before the head coach’s announcement; since the departure of Taulupe Faletau the Dragons have no shoo-ins.

The Rodney Parade region provided three players at England 2015 – number eight Faletau, wing Hallam Amos and centre Tyler Morgan, who was an early replacement for the injured Cory Allen.

The contingent was five-strong for the semi-finalists at New Zealand 2011 with Faletau joined by fellow influential forwards Luke Charteris and Dan Lydiate, back-up hooker Lloyd Burns and reserve wing Aled Brew.

The Flying Fijians ensure that France in 2007 tends to get brushed under the carpet but the Dragons had four players involved – back row forwards Colin Charvis and Michael Owen, fly-half Ceri Sweeney and full-back Kevin Morgan.

It would be remarkable if the Dragons can eclipse that high of five from 2011… but stranger things have happened.

What is sure is that those individuals who aren’t big beasts – Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Faletau, Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, George North – need to grasp every chance between now and August, 2019.

There will be some Dragons fans spitting out their tea at some of the above statements, rightly ready to point out the incredible strides made on the Test scene by Cory Hill.

The lock has been superb since coming into the Wales squad because of a glut of injuries in 2016, sticking two fingers up at his doubters.

The 26-year-old has grown as a leader but most importantly he has produced the goods with a series of impressive performances next to captain Jones in the second row.

He was named as co-captain for the summer tour on Tuesday, yet he will be the first to tell you that he faces a battle to keep hold of his squad place, let alone the starting jersey.

Jones is nailed-on and so is the Scarlets Jake Ball if fit. That leaves Hill battling with Luke Charteris, Seb Davies, Bradley Davies and Adam Beard.

He’s put himself in a good position but the Dragon needs to keep pushing on because of the stiff competition.

The same goes for Elliot Dee, who has enjoyed a superb first season on the international scene.

The 24-year-old has established himself as Owens’ deputy – and looks likely to have first crack in the 2 jersey against South Africa and Argentina – but there is quality in the chasing pack.

Ryan Elias, Kristian Dacey and Scott Baldwin will put the heat on and there is peril at hooker given that Gatland is taking just two on tour this summer and picked a pair for England 2015 with Aaron Jarvis the emergency option.

This time last year Ross Moriarty, who heads for Rodney Parade from Gloucester in the summer, was preparing for the Lions tour but such are Wales’ back row riches that he isn’t guaranteed a place on the flight to Japan.

The same goes for Amos, a quality player but up against Halfpenny, North, Liam Williams plus Steff Evans and Josh Adams, while there are always speedsters catching the eye.

Maybe Jared Rosser, Ashton Hewitt or new recruits Jordan Williams and Dafydd Howells will enjoy a stellar 2018/19 to force their way into the mix. Cardiff Blues’ Owen Lane certainly looks like he could.

However, the time is running out for bolters and those that are uncapped know that they need something extra special. Harri Keddie and Aaron Wainwright are on the radar but up against Lions.

Some other Dragons just need some luck.

Tyler Morgan coped superbly after being flung in at the deep end against Fiji and South Africa in the last World Cup but he has won just one cap since, against Samoa last autumn.

The centre looked back to his razor-sharp best with ball in hand in the opening months of 2017/18 only for injuries to strike.

He needs to match his exploits from the previous campaign, when he played 24 times for the Dragons, if he is to stand a chance of earning a place as an option at 13.

Tighthead Leon Brown enjoyed a season of highs and lows, early season form earning caps against Australia, Georgia and New Zealand only for a concussion against the All Blacks to throw a spanner in the works.

The 21-year-old from Maesglas came back only to suffer a toe injury that denies him the chance to tour this summer.

Samson Lee looks a World Cup cert but Brown faces a big battle with Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis (one assumes Jarvis’ makeshift hooker abilities won’t help a late charge when he heads to the Dragons from Clermont).

One man is heading for Newport sensing an opportunity in a position that lacks the depth of lock, back row or out wide.

With Rhys Webb out of the running because of his move to Toulon, the gap in class to the 9 jersey isn’t so large for hopefuls.

Rhodri Williams, capped three times in 2013/14, will head to the Dragons knowing that repeating his livewire Bristol displays, admittedly in the English Championship, can put pressure on Gareth Davies, Aled Davies and Tomos Williams.

There are just 16 Tests – 1,280 minutes of action – until Wales kick off their tournament with a potential banana skin against Georgia in Toyota.

It is club form that will earn international action, so it goes without saying that the Rodney Parade region need to enjoy a better season as a team.

Hill, Dee, Amos and Moriarty are looking good but have no margin for error. Strong-running Brown has a point of difference, Morgan is a class act in full flight and Rhodri Williams will sense a chance.

The Dragons’ squad of 2018/19 can’t waste an opportunity. They could match or better the quintet of 2011 but could easily have one or two individuals.

It’s in their own hands.