Mark Anscombe’s men were untouchable in the early stages of last season as they racked up 11 straight league wins before finally being beaten by Munster on December 29, but the current campaign began in much less promising fashion.
An early drop goal and four penalties from fly-half Jason Tovey gave the Dragons a dream start to life under new boss Lyn Jones, but Ulster were far from at their fluent best at Rodney Parade.
The visitors did claim the only try of the game through Roger Wilson but they were well below par in the second period in particular and could have few complaints about heading back to Belfast with a losing bonus point.
Paddy Jackson’s disappointing showing with the boot summed up a frustrating night for last season’s beaten finalistswho should have led more than 8-6 at the break.
Scorers for Dragons: Pens: Tovey 4. Drop goal: Tovey.
Scorers for Ulster: Try: Wilson. Pen: Jackson.
DRAGONS: D Evans; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos, J Tovey, R Rees; A Coundley (P Price 44), T.R Thomas, D Way (F Chaparro 44), A Coombs (capt), M Screech (A Jones 54), J Groves (N Talei 54), N Cudd, L Evans
ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, C Farrell (D Cave 54), D McIlwaine, P Jackson (J McKinney 67), P Marshall (I Porter 67); C Black (T Court 60), R Herring, R Lutton (D Fitzpatrick 54), J Muller (capt), D Tuohy (L Stevenson 62), R Diack, C Henry (S Doyle 67), R Wilson
RaboDirect PRO12: Glasgow 22 Cardiff Blues 15