Esava Ratugolea faces the biggest decision of his football life, with two clubs circling the off-contract Geelong defender.
But whether Port Adelaide will be able to compete with Hawthorn – both from a contract and trade offer perspective – remains questionable.
Ratugolea is tipped to leave the Cats during next month’s trade period after holding off on re-signing with the club that drafted him nearly seven years ago. It comes one year after the Power made a play to lure him out of Geelong while in-contract, only for the Cats to retain Ratugolea.
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The versatile 25-year-old is aware of the Power’s long-held interest in him after meeting with the club last October – interest it’ll surely use as part of their pitch to get him, along with the fact its list has the club in the premiership window now.
But striking a deal with the Cats might be tricky for the Power, who hold the thinnest hand in this year’s draft as it stands, with just three selections tied to points on the draft value index: Picks 37, 43 and 72.
The Herald Sun reported that if Ratugolea nominated Port Adelaide as his club of choice, the Cats would likely ask for the Power’s future first-round pick in return – an offer Port would likely refuse, considering Ratugolea was dropped to the VFL in the latter stages of this season.
The same report indicated, however, that the Power could look to split its future first-rounder and turn it into two picks in this year’s draft, which might not only help it get a Ratugolea deal done with Geelong, but also a trade with Essendon with Brandon Zerk-Thatcher.
The issue for Port, though, is the Hawks look set to be one of the more aggressive teams in this year’s trade period – and Ratugolea is in their sights.
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The Hawks have a stronger hand in this year’s draft – Picks 3, 29 and 48 – and the expectation is they’ll finish lower on the 2024 ladder than Port Adelaide – which has earned the double chance this year after finishing third at the end of the home and away season – which would mean their 2024 selections would be more appealing for the Cats.
But SEN reported on Wednesday that Hawthorn, which has ample cap space to work with this off-season, had offered Ratugolea a contract worth around $5 million over seven years in a bid to boost its key defensive stocks.
According to the Herald Sun, however, the Hawks’ contract offer isn’t quite as substantial.
The News Corp report states both Port Adelaide and Hawthorn’s offers are five-year deals, and though likely north of $500,000 annually with the potential to “significantly” rise with the new CBA, they wouldn’t start at $700,000.
The Herald Sun also revealed the Bombers aren’t expected to be pursue Ratugolea despite previous speculation otherwise.
When asked about Hawthorn’s reported seven-year offer for Ratugolea, dual All-Australian Kane Cornes said he “nearly fell off the treadmill” when he first heard of it, labelling it “absolutely ridiculous”.
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“He’s not going to be in as good a side as what he is at Geelong if he goes to Hawthorn. He’s going to be under the pump,” Cornes told SEN’s Sportsday.
“Do Hawks fans want (Sam) Frost and Ratugolea in the same backline? I’m not sure.
“Certainly not at (that money) for seven years.”
Western Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson added: “It’s big coin, a huge deal.
“The pressure comes with that and he’s not there (as a player) yet.”
After playing as a ruck-forward across his first five-and-a-half seasons at Geelong, Ratugolea settled into a defensive role at both VFL and AFL level.
Ratugolea played 16 AFL games this season, averaging 8.9 disposals and 5.6 spoils per game, while his 2.8 intercept marks per outing were the second-best at Geelong – behind All-Australian Tom Stewart – and 20th-best in the competition.
Ratugolea was drafted out of the Murray Bushrangers by Geelong with Pick 43 in 2016.