FOR BRANDON Zerk-Thatcher, it was the pull of family that brought him to Port Adelaide.
The former Essendon defender had entered 2023 knowing it was a significant season in the shape of his career. He had been at the Bombers for five years after being drafted late in the 2017 intake and managed a career total 29 games.
He had played 12 games in 2022 but it had been enough to pique Port's interest, with the club meeting Zerk-Thatcher in the last off-season before he returned to the Bombers to play 22 out of 23 games in 2023 with a big decision gnawing at his mind.
"I met with Port the year before at the end of 2022 when I started to play a couple of good games and I suppose the seed was there. But it was nothing concrete, I still had to perform and play well and prove that I could be a good AFL footballer," he told AFL.com.au.
"Coming out of contract you always want to put your best foot forward and for me personally I hadn't played a full season of AFL up until that point and that was really my main focus.
"(Essendon coach) Brad Scott was really good in giving me that opportunity."
But as the year unfolded and Zerk-Thatcher remained set on making his contract call at the end of Essendon's season, Port's interest grew as it looked to add more key pieces to its premiership hopes. The Bombers weren't pushing him out the door and had tabled a contract offer, but the Sturt product had settled on returning to Adelaide.
"I spent six years over in Melbourne. I was fortunate enough to develop some really good friends over at Essendon, the coaches, staff, are all amazing people," he said.
"But deep down I've been missing my family over that six years and ultimately I wanted to get back and reconnect with my little brother, and my mum was missing me and I was missing her, so when the opportunity came about I really had to think about it.
"What I really wanted was to go back home and make sure I could dive deep into the relationships with my family."
He had seen new backline partner Esava Ratugolea put in his trade request to get to the Power – "I noticed that and was like 'Oh, I think I want to put mine in as well'," he said – and had been buoyed by Aliir Aliir's growth since joining the club from Sydney at the end of 2020.
"I really liked the ability of the club to bring out the best in people. You can see with a few players traded in they've gone on to elevate themselves and I still had so much to develop and I thought under Ken (Hinkley) would be the perfect way to go to that next level," he said.
"It wasn't an easy thing [to leave Essendon]. They didn’t want me to leave but (Scott) was very understanding that it was nothing against him or the club or anything and I was very grateful for the opportunity he gave me."
Zerk-Thatcher went into the Trade Period knowing his deal was likely to go down to the wire, with the eventual trade taking until the final minutes as Port Adelaide swapped Xavier Duursma to Essendon for the defender plus more late picks. It was the fourth of Port's quartet of last-day deals, following Ivan Soldo, Jordon Sweet and Ratugolea's moves.
Zerk-Thatcher had unknowingly booked a long-haul flight for the final day of the Trade Period, so he landed in Vietnam for a stopover on the way to Europe to the news the deal had been completed.
But with 51 games to his name and the new No.25 jumper on his back, Zerk-Thatcher feels ready to get into the next phase of his career after doing his football "apprenticeship".
"It's a little scary stepping into a new footy club. Everyone's generally got their own connections already formed, it's like going to a new school, but it's also very exciting," he said.
"I've been in and out of the side over the course of my journey so I'm excited to come here and step in with those boys and create a really good backline and become one of the better backlines in the competition."