Ireland Under-20 international Nevin Spence has been replaced by Scottish flyer Simon Danielli, who has overcome illness to take the left wing berth.
Paddy Wallace, who also took ill last week and missed the Worcester game, is fit enough for a bench role alongside fellow Test player Darren Cave.
The Ulster pack is unchanged with recent signings Andy Kyriacou and Dan Tuohy and Ballynahinch starlet Willie Faloon all poised to make their competitive debuts for the province.
Ryan Caldwell has shaken off a dead leg to start in the second row, while back rower Chris Henry will continue as stand-in captain in the absence of injured hooker Rory Best.
McLaughlin told IrishRugby.ie: "We're going to Wales on Sunday with confidence. We're looking forward to getting stuck into the Magners League, there's no doubt about that.
"We've set out that one of our major aims for the season is being able to play consistently.
"If we can play with the same intensity and consistency as we did in our three or four friendly games and we can turn that into the Magners, I think we won't be too far away against the Dragons."
ULSTER (v Newport Gwent Dragons): Bryn Cunningham; Timoci Nagusa, Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Andy Kyriacou, BJ Botha, Dan Tuohy, Ryan Caldwell, Chris Henry (capt), Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ed O'Donoghue, Thomas Anderson, Paul Marshall, Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave.