When Esava Ratugolea picks out the favourite moment of his football career, it’s not the soaring grabs or big goals on a packed-out MCG.
It’s not the starring role he played in a semi-final win over the Eagles.
Ratugolea holds draft night as his greatest achievement, as it meant he would finally be able to give back to his family who struggled to make ends meet during his early years.
“It was something I wanted to do for a lot of my life and it gave me an opportunity to help out my family as well,” Ratugolea says.
“That’s where I got a lot of my relief from. I guess growing up we struggled a lot, my family and myself just financially really. I guess this was a step forward in helping my family out.
It was always important for me, getting the opportunity to do that. As long as I’m doing that (helping my family), I know I’m doing something right.”
Ratugolea spent his early years in Griffith, NSW, before moving to Cobram where his picked up Aussie Rules after finding a packet of football cards inside a packet of Smiths’ Chips.
Things were never dire in the family home, but the Ratugolea clan relied on the generosity of others to support his athletic pursuits.
“A lot of other families and my friends’ families would help us out with little things like for me to get to training because we would struggle with the car sometimes,” he says.
“They’d help with me getting some boots or a new jumper for my footy club or something like that. Those things helped me along the way to get me where I am.
“There weren’t any times where we were like, wow we are struggling, we always got through, always.
“We had a lot of support around us, I came from a small country town and everyone knew everyone.”
A young Esava saw sport as his ticket to giving back to those that helped him along the way.
“Probably at a young age I think (I saw it as a way to help). I wasn’t really good at a lot of things, just sport and doing anything with sport. Whether that was athletics or playing soccer and joining up to play footy late,” he says.
“I’m so grateful for that and I’ve made a lot of friends along the way that will probably be friends for my whole life. Yeah, I’m very grateful.”
He was always confident in his ability to make it as a professional athlete, thanks to the exploits of his family.
“My father, I didn’t grow up knowing my father, but he was a professional boxer.
“I have a lot of relatives who have also made it in some NRL teams and things like that. And then a lot of my older generation have made it in professional sport. I’ve always thought I would do something – that was the most realistic thing for me.
“My mother didn’t do much professionally, but she was good at some sports as well. Volleyball was a big thing back in Fiji. I think I got most of my sporting ability from my father.
The hard yards it took to get his name called out at pick 43 on draft night are why Ratugolea will never forget the night that changed his family’s fortunes.
“I was with my family at my mother’s house and a few close mates from school. We just watched it at home in the lounge room,” he says.
“My mother and my grandmother put up a little dinner for myself and my mates.”
“It finally came around and my name got called out, so it was a very exciting night and an emotional night as well. I cannot forget that day.”