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Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - 3:35 PM by Chris Pike

ONE of the reasons there's great excitement about South Fremantle's premiership defence in 2021 is the return to the Bulldogs of Matthew Parker, and he's just as excited to deliver team-lifting defensive efforts as he is to kick big goals and take spectacular marks.

The Parker story was an amazing one to see his WAFL career revived by South Fremantle to arrive in 2017 and show exciting signs in the back half of that season at league level with 12 goals from seven games in a team that reached the preliminary final.

He then backed that up in 2018 to kick 27 goals from 20 games again as part of a Bulldogs team that got to a preliminary final, and on the back of that he was drafted into the AFL with St Kilda.

He quickly impressed at the Saints as well and over the past two years he was able to play 19 matches, show some good signs that he could hold his own at AFL level and that meant it was somewhat a surprise when he delisted at the end of 2020.

But that has turned into positive news for a South Fremantle team coming off winning the 2020 premiership with Parker not considering playing anywhere but returning to the Bulldogs having been unable to find a second AFL home for 2021.

Parker had no trouble agreeing to return to South Fremantle for the 2021 WAFL season and he'll fit in nicely into a forward-line also welcoming back Cam McCarthy and potentially Steven Edwards.

There will still be the maintaining of Mason Shaw, Brandon Donaldson, Cody Ninyette, Jimmy Miller and at times the likes of Zac Strom, Dylan Main and Haiden Schloithe.

Parker is looking forward to being part of that forward-line and while he loves kicking a goal and taking a big mark, he takes just as much pride in his defensive efforts.

"It all depends on the coaches but I love playing forward. I love chasing and tackling, and doing all those things knowing that goals and that come on the back of that. So I do enjoy working hard there in the forward half," Parker said.

"Obviously I've played with Mase before and I played against Cam before I went to St Kilda so it will be good to get back in and crumb off those bigger boys, and also get in there with Cody Ninyette and other small forwards like Donno. We'll be pretty keen to put on a bit of heat out there."

Parker has had no trouble fitting right back in at South Fremantle after the two years away, and he really didn’t ever consider playing anywhere else if he wasn’t able to find another AFL home after leaving St Kilda.

"It feels like I've never left really and it's good to be back home really, and to be in the red-and-white again," Parker said.

"It definitely was an easy decision. There was no other option and Souths are a family club, and it's always home for me. My kids and my partner love the club, and the club loves us so it was a very easy decision."

Parker didn’t necessarily find COVID-19 tough last year, but he did find his injuries a challenge which didn’t allow him to full show what he could with the Saints to earn another contract.

But he still feels he learned plenty the last two years at St Kilda and will be putting that to good effect now back with South Fremantle.

"I've learned a lot while I was away and obviously coming back there's a lot of young boys in the Souths outfit so I'll try and get my knowledge out to them, and what I learned when I was up in the AFL and to bring it back down here. I'll try to use that to make everyone better including myself," Parker said.

"COVID was alright but it was just me personally that found it tough last year with my injury. It was hard not being able to get out on the park that much due to injuries so now coming back into the Bulldogs I've had a fresh start. I've got a full pre-season under my belt and I'm looking forward to it."

Having been part of two South Fremantle teams that lost preliminary finals, Parker would love nothing more than being part of a back-to-back Bulldogs premiership in 2021. 

But he knows as well as anyone how important it is to focus on the job at hand and that is West Perth in Round 1 this Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

"Of course everyone wants to go back-to-back but I think if we do the hard yards and put in the hard work now then I think we'll give ourselves every opportunity to do that. It's been a long pre-season so I'm definitely looking forward to the start of Round 1 now," Parker said.

"Obviously West Perth got us a couple of years ago to get into the Grand Final and that has stuck with me since. We know it will be a hard fought game but I think we know if we go out and play our brand of footy, we'll give ourselves a chance of starting off with a win."