ETHAN Hughes established himself at Fremantle last year, but the hard-running defender says he isn't taking his position in the Dockers' evolving backline for granted. 

After starting 2017 in the WAFL, Hughes soon became a beneficiary of Freo's turn towards youth after a poor start.  

The former rookie was called up in round three and managed 18 appearances in purple, impressing with his line-breaking pace and improving composure as he settled in at the elite level. 

But Hughes, 23, knows there are no guarantees this year as competition for spots heats up leading into the JLT Community Series.

"We've got a big bunch of guys down there looking to set (themselves) in the back six," Hughes said. 

"That’s where I want to play my footy." 

Fremantle's defence underwent significant change throughout last season, with reliable full-back Joel Hamling playing every game after crossing from the Bulldogs, as draftees Luke Ryan and Griffin Logue showed they have bright futures.

Connor Blakely also spent time across half-back in a breakout campaign, while rookie Ryan Nyhuis will be looking to build on his four games and Cameron Sutcliffe will be hoping to reignite his career. 

Add elite-kicking recruit Nathan Wilson – set to replace Lachie Weller – and talented tall Alex Pearce, coming back from a broken leg, into the mix and the squeeze for spots gets tighter.

"There’s always competition, there are 45 guys on the list who are vying for a spot for round one, so we’re doing our best to get ready," Hughes said.

"There’s plenty of young guys who have come into the club the past two years, so they’re all trying to put their name forward to give themselves the best opportunity to strive for something better." 

Amid the regeneration of Freo's backline, dependable veterans Lee Spurr and Michael Johnson provided stability to a young group. 

Johnson played all 22 games last season and, with the 33-year-old in the twilight of his career, Hughes wants to soak up knowledge from the experienced campaigner while he can. 

"I’ve always looked up to 'Johnno'; he’s an experienced head," he said.

"If I can pick his brains and learn from him, that’s what I’m going to do."