Esava Ratugolea poses for a photo in Port Adelaide colours. Picture: @PAFC Twitter

ESAVA Ratugolea was in Paris on a 5am run to the Eiffel Tower when the phone call came through. 

His agent, Winston Rous from Phoenix Management Group, was ringing from Marvel Stadium at the final day of the Trade Period with the news Ratugolea had been waiting for after requesting a trade from Geelong to Port Adelaide for the second year running. 

The clubs had been locked in a trade stalemate until just hours before the deadline, with the possibility he could be forced to head to the draft to land at Port if a deal fell through, but there had been a breakthrough

"Winston said 'Mate, have your phone handy, something's going to get done in the next half an hour'," Ratugolea told this week. 

"On the way back from my run he called and said it was done. I had to sit down for a bit and it was a nice moment. I reckon people who know me know I'm a very laid-back guy. I trusted Winston and I knew it was going to get done in the end."

It was a different story to the previous year, when Ratugolea met with Port Adelaide during the 2022 Trade Period and toured the Power's Alberton Oval facility. But with a year to run on his contract at Geelong, the Cats wouldn't budge on a trade and held him to his deal.

Esava Ratugolea pictured during Port Adelaide's pre-season training camp in December 2023. Picture: Isabel Gawel/Port Adelaide FC

There were a range of emotions for Ratugolea as he dealt with that and returned to the Cats for 2023, where he played 16 games as a key defender. 

"I tried to come last year and I was disappointed but I was kind of happy that I was staying because I didn't have to make that big move that I was anxious about. But as the year went on it made me realise how much I needed to go," he said.

"I played the start of the year and felt good confidence wise but then I got injured and fell back into that hole where I was behind a few players. It was pretty easy for me to make the decision but one day I would come in and think 'I need to go' and then the next day I'd be second-guessing myself.

"There was a lot of ups and downs but by the end I was keen to go and chase another opportunity." 

Esava Ratugolea takes a drink during Port Adelaide's pre-season training camp in December 2023. Picture: Isabel Gawel/Port Adelaide FC

And he wasn't without opportunities. Hawthorn also came hard for Ratugolea in its search of a key defender, but Port Adelaide's pitch the previous season won him over as he shifted states, rejoining former Cats teammates Francis Evans and Quinton Narkle at the Power. 

He said Power coach Ken Hinkley's vision for his role in Port's backline was a key factor in his decision.

"It was definitely a big part of why I wanted to come. I've come to a spot where I have to be the main guy. I'm not really behind anyone and he's really just driven it into me to really back myself and I reckon that's going to help me so much," Ratugolea said.

"I reckon I just need consistent footy and time in the AFL side. I need to make sure my body's good and I'm able to be on the track every weekend and play every weekend. I just need that consistency where I haven't had that in the last five years."

Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher run during Port Adelaide's pre-season training camp in December 2023. Picture: Isabel Gawel/Port Adelaide FC

Ratugolea is seven years and 75 games into his AFL career but most of that has been played as a key forward/ruckman. His switch into defence is only new and he knows that will take more experience and system to bed down, but with a five-year deal at the Power he has been targeted to help be a missing piece for their backline, joining in October's Trade Period alongside fellow backman Brandon Zerk-Thatcher from Essendon.

He also joins Port from a club that has tasted the success his new teammates and coaches are chasing and sees it as part of his role to impart some of that experience at the Power.

"I've learned a lot of things from some good leaders at the Cats. Joel [Selwood] was massive for me and Tom Hawkins as well and being able to play and work with those guys has been huge for me. They fast-tracked me a lot too, because I come in knowing nothing about footy," he said.

"There's just little things that hopefully I'm able to pass down. I'm 26 next year, so I'm probably at that time of my career where I really have got to start working with the people younger than me and really trying to help them along, as 'Hawk' and Joel did for me growing up."

After finishing in the top four three of the past four home and away seasons, Port Adelaide is setting itself for another tilt in 2024, with Ratugolea excited by what he has seen in a short time at the club.

"They've been so close for the last few years and it's right there. The side that we've got right now, there's a lot of blokes reaching their prime and getting to that stage so that's why I'm bloody excited to work with them," he said.