AARON Wainwright's stellar performances for the Dragons may have earned a cap and special praise from Wales boss Warren Gatland but the flanker isn't taking his place in the back row for granted.

The 20-year-old from Bassaleg was one of the bright lights in a gloomy season at Rodney Parade.

After 2016/17 with Cardiff Met in the WRU Championship, the back row forward was meant to spend the season with Newport RFC in the Premiership but instead became a leading figure in Bernard Jackman's side.

Injuries led to Wainwright making his debut from the bench at Cardiff Blues in October and he took his tally of appearances to 25, missing just one game.

His exploits led to a shock Wales call-up for the summer tour and, after being an unused replacement in the win against South Africa, the Dragons novice made his debut in the first Test victory in Argentina.

However, the level-headed back rower is not getting ahead of himself and is all too aware of the fierce battle for the Dragons' 6, 7 and 8 jerseys.

Lions star Ross Moriarty has arrived from Gloucester along with Worcester's Huw Taylor to join Wainwright, Lewis Evans, Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin, Nic Cudd, James Thomas and James Sheekey as senior options for head coach Jackman with Wales Under-20s internationals Max Williams, Taine Basham and Lennon Greggains waiting in the wings.

That competition means there is no danger of entitlement from the region's latest international.

"I wouldn't say I am a Dragons regular! There were quite a few injuries last year and I took the chances well when they came," Wainwright told BBC's Scrum V podcast.

"But this year a lot of boys have come back and are fit [again], there are new signings and a lot of the younger boys pushed on a lot last year.

"It's just a case of me getting back into pre-season and doing the same as I did last year to try and put myself forward and try to make one of those back row places mine.

"It was a great experience going away [with Wales] and getting a nice bit of game time but in the grand scheme of things, I have only taken my chances through injury. I want to get to a stage where I am playing well enough to be picked for that.

"There is going to be a lot of competition this year with Ollie Griffiths coming back from injury, Harrison Keddie had a good end to the season, Ross Moriarty and Huw Taylor coming in, James Thomas is back from injury... there are so many names, so I just have to get stuck into the season and play as well as I can if I get selected.

"I want to establish myself more as a senior figure in the team and establish myself as a regular. With that competition being there, I want to develop and make my mark."

Wainwright got his unexpected chance with Wales thanks to Josh Navidi's injury misfortune but the Dragons man made an impression on boss Warren Gatland by racking up 13 tackles in under half an hour on the field.

"Aaron was saying about having no respect for his own body and just throwing himself into everything and giving 100 per cent," said Gatland at the time.

"As a coach, when you hear that from young players it's great. That's the kind of attitude you're looking for from everyone."

Wainwright returned to pre-season training last week and is now eyeing a fast start to the season to stay on the radar of the Wales coaches, who have a glut of back row options despite Sam Warburton's retirement.

"If things go well at the start of the season and I am playing well, hopefully I will get recognition and my name is thrown about for the autumn internationals. That would be a massive high," said Wainwright.

Listen to the Scrum V podcast, also featuring ex-Dragon Dan Lydiate, here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fqfqn