By Luke Voogt
Dynamic forward-ruck Esava Ratugolea will play for Geelong until at least the end of the 2023 season after signing a two-year contract extension in time for his 50th game.
“I can’t wait to see what this group does going forward, and I want to be a part of it, so it’s very exciting times,” the 22-year-old said.
“I got drafted with a few of the blokes who have signed on, Jack Henry, Mark O’Connor and Brandan Parfitt.
“I love the group, I can’t wait to develop my footy and grow with this club.”
Ratugolea initially wanted to play rugby after his family immigrated from Fiji to NSW when he was young.
But his family then moved from Sydney to Cobram, where “there was no rugby around”, Ratugolea told the Independent early last year.
He played soccer until a friend asked him to try Aussie rules.
Despite being new to the game, his athleticism and ability to split the pack eventually prompted the Murray Bushrangers to select him for the Victorian under 18 competition.
The Cats selected Ratugolea at pick 43 in the 2016 national draft and he debuted in round 1, 2018.
But the promising then 19-year-old broke his right leg (tibia and fibula) in just his eighth game and spent the rest of the season recovering.
In 2019 he finished 17th in the AFL for contested marks and played 20 games that season.
But Ratugolea suffered a knock at training earlier this year, again fracturing the same leg.
Since returning from injury this season, the 197-centimetre Cat has shared ruck duties with defender-utility Mark Blicavs.
More recently, he has spent most of his time up forward to bolster the Cats’ marking prowess in the absence of injured star forward Jeremy Cameron.
He has steadily improved this season, impressing with his overhead marking and ability rove his own ruck work before bursting out of the centre and delivering into the foward line.
After playing nine matches in 2021, Ratugolea is set to play his 50th game against Richard on Sunday.
“Esava continues to develop his football craft in a number of roles both in the ruck and up forward,” Geelong Cats football general manager Simon Lloyd said.
“He’s exciting to watch and has great potential to build on his first 49 games. We see Esava as a key part of the club’s next generation, and we are pleased to have secured his services.”