Back row Harri Keddie has vowed to show his true potential this season after making his long-awaited return to full training.
The blindside/number eight was forced to miss the Guinness PRO14 run-in last season after injuring his toe in the home league clash with Ulster in March.
After a summer of rehab and recovery, Keddie returned to full training at Ystrad Mynach this week, alongside Connor Edwards and James Sheekey who have also been given the green light.
And Keddie, who turns 23 next week, is now keen to make up for lost time and ensure he starts the new season in the best possible shape.
“I’m really happy to be back,” smiled Keddie. “It’s always a bit of a nightmare when you’re injured so it’s nice to get back on the field and do what you enjoy.
“It’s pre-season and the sun is out – you want to be out with the boys!
“It’s the first time I’ve had a lower body injury so it’s been different and difficult to start with. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone not running.
“But I’m feeling fit and strong now so hopefully that will continue and I will keep enjoying pre-season.
“Whenever a new coach comes in you want to show what you are about and impress at any opportunity,” he added.
“It was frustrating the first few weeks not being able to do as much. But over the last few weeks I’ve got back and it’s great to get your hands back on a ball and do the skills work and touch games.”
The back row from Llanvaches, who captained the team in the absence of Cory Hill and Richard Hibbard last season, was ruled out of action after rupturing the sesamoid bones in his big toe.
Keddie admitted while the severity of the injury initially came as a surprise the medical and S&C teams at Dragons have ensured he remained focused throughout his recovery.
“It was one of those injuries I didn’t think much of at first – I’d never heard of it before,” said Keddie, who has made 47 senior appearances for Dragons.
“Injuries are part of sport so, ultimately, you have to get on with it and it’s a different challenge every time.
“When you’re injured it can feel like you are stuck between the four walls of the gym.
“But to be fair, the physios here are really good at mixing it up and making sure you have a clear mind and don’t lose track of why you’re there – to get back fit.”
“I’ve had two upper body injuries before so this spell out has given me time to work on areas where I felt I was lacking a bit.
“My body feels in a good place now and I’ve definitely improved my strength going into pre-season.”
Dragons Academy product Keddie made 13 appearances in all competitions last season, but the former Wales Under-20s ace insists his best is yet to come.
“You don’t feel you can show your full potential when you come back from one injury and pick up another,” he admitted.
“Now it’s about putting that right, hitting the ground running and making sure I’m in the best physical and mental condition come the start of the season.
“There is a certainly a healthy level of competition in the back row here so you’ve got to be at your best,” he added.
“We get on well as a back row unit and we’ve got that competitive edge, which is massive. It’s professional sport so everyone here is a competitor – that’s vitally important for us to push on.”
A new crop of young back rows will also enter the battle for places this season, with the likes of Taine Basham, Ben Fry and Lennon Greggains all eager to gain more opportunities.
And it is a challenge that Keddie is relishing as Dragons look to kick-on.
“I’m still only 22 so I’m not one of the old heads just yet,” laughed Keddie. “But I’ve had a few years in the senior set-up and every year there are players coming through the Dragons Academy.
“You want that conveyor belt working well and if you’re in the senior environment it’s your job to set a good example for the boys fresh out of the Academy and age grade.
“It’s something that is done very well here, we’ve got an Academy where boys who step up have good personal standards which makes a big difference.
“We’re all pushing to get better and big competition in the back row can only be a good thing for the region.”
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It’s about hitting the ground running and making sure I’m in the best physical and mental condition come the start of the season...