ESAVA Ratugolea remembers the emotion of the NAB AFL Draft like it was yesterday.

Growing up in the small country town of Cobram near the Victoria-New South Wales border, Ratugolea only took up Australian Football as a teenager, having played rugby and soccer in his junior days.


In fact, his first introduction to the sport came when he received a footy card of former Swans superstar Adam Goodes in a packet of chips.

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And although his Fijian-born family understood very little about the game, they never missed a match as he rocketed into draft calculations with high leaps and big bags of goals for Murray Bushrangers.

"My grandma was getting sick of these people with polo shirts rocking up to the house asking questions and things like that," he said as part of the NAB Pathways Series.

A dreadlocked Esava Ratugolea playing for the Murray Bushrangers in the 2016 U18 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

So what happened when Geelong took a punt on the athletic 18-year-old with pick No.43 in 2016?

"I definitely shed a tear out there," he said.

"It was a big reward for the sacrifices my family made for me and being picked up was one way I could repay them."

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Ratugolea made a solid, if unspectacular, debut in the opening round of 2018 against Melbourne at the MCG, kicking a goal from eight disposals.

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"I just remember standing there and looking around and thinking 'This is crazy … where am I?' Half the crowd would have definitely heard my grandmother scream at the top of her lungs," he said.

Esava Ratugolea off for a run through the fields of Cobram. Picture: AFL Digital

For Ratugolea, who has played 40 matches for the Cats in three seasons, everything comes back to family.

"They still tell me to this day they cry every time they see me on TV," he said.

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"They had to go through so much for me to be in the position I am today.

"I never grew up with a lot of things, but we always managed to get through. To this day, it's what keeps me going, it's my drive and it's the reason I love what I do."