RICHARD Hadley has played on the biggest stage of all as an AFL premiership player, but since returning to East Fremantle the importance and prestige of Fremantle derbies has been impossible not to soak in and he and his Sharks teammates haven’t forgotten about last year's three losses against South Fremantle heading into the WA Day clash at Fremantle Oval on Monday.
Hadley played in the 2003 premiership with the Brisbane Lions before finishing his AFL career with Carlton ahead of returning home to East Fremantle for the 2011 season.
Last year, the Sharks narrowly missed the finals courtesy of a Round 24 loss to South Fremantle at Fremantle Oval and now Hadley and the rest of his teammates are desperate to return to the port ground on Monday and continue on the momentum from the 85-point win over the Bulldogs in Round 7 at East Fremantle Oval.
"Any time you go 0-3 against a team in a season you have to rectify it so I'm pretty sure we will have that in our minds, but it won't be something that's too close to the front. You want to be consistent against good teams, though, and that's what they are. Losing all three games last year cost us a finals spot and we want to change things this year," Hadley said.
"Being back for two years now I realise how big it is. Last year we lost to them three times and that's what it means. We can't let that happen again. We lost some games last year that were really important to us and straightaway you get that feeling of how big a derby is.
"I know that we will be ready for it. It's important for East Fremantle to start winning games and playing consistent footy so each week is a big week, but two teams that are so close and a lot of guys know each other and have played for each other's club, so it's always a hotter contest."
While the Sharks did record a thoroughly convincing 85-point win over the Bulldogs in the first derby of the year in Round 7, Hadley expects a vastly improved performance from South Fremantle this time around and knows it's not going to be easy.
"It was definitely one of those games where they looked pretty flat, but I'm sure they won't be flat this Monday. They will be up and about," he said.
"We obviously played pretty well that day, but we definitely have to be ready for a hard clash. They're a good side, they have experienced players and it will be a big one. Hopefully we see a lot of people down there watching a great game."
Hadley had a slow start to the 2012 season through injury, but since returning into the league side in Round 6 he has played a run-with role up against some of the competition's best midfielders, and done it well.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that saw him establish himself as a strong AFL midfielder in similar roles especially with the Brisbane Lions, but also Carlton in his 66 appearances. He is just happy to do whatever his coach Steve Malaxos asks of him.
"I'm playing a bit of a run-with role through the midfield and it's something that I was sort of used to doing when I was playing my few games in the AFL," he said.
"I got to learn to play on some really good players when I did that and if that's the role I need to play that I can help the team now then I'm willing to do it. I'm not sure this week what Steve's thinking at this stage, but I'm sure over the next few days we will find out."
East Fremantle's start to the season saw them record a first up win over Claremont following a two-week break to start the campaign. The Sharks followed up with a win over Peel before losses to Subiaco and East Perth.
East Fremantle then bounced back with the big win over South Fremantle and victories over Perth and West Perth before the Round 10 loss to Swan Districts. Hadley has been happy with the preparations and schedule of the team since then leading into Monday's game.
"We did our normal recovery process after our last game against the Swans on the Monday and then on Wednesday we dissected that game and where we went wrong," Hadley said.
"Then we had from Thursday til Sunday off, which was nice and gave you some time to rejuvenate and get the old body ready to get back up to play, and then we resumed as normal this week. Friday will be a longer session than normal and then we'll have a light run on Sunday leading into the Monday game."
The game will also be the 100th in the WAFL for versatile Sharks big man Rob Young, but he still has to prove his fitness as he continues to battle a hamstring complaint. Hadley's not sure if he will notch his 100th appearance with the Sharks since coming to East Fremantle in 2007 from VFL club Coburg.
"The game's still a few days away so we'll see. He's had a little hamstring problem that came up late in the West Perth game," he said.
"He did a little bit of modified stuff earlier this week, but who knows at this stage. He is sitting on the 99 games so I think he is just building it up so he can get all his friends and family over for his 100th game."
Not only is Hadley hopeful and confident of East Fremantle contending for the premiership come September as well, but also he and his wife Kate are preparing for the birth of their first child.
"My wife is about 21 weeks in so we have a little baby due in early October. Hopefully it will be a lovely couple of weeks, fingers crossed."