“ALL CLEAR” were two words prolific with the umpires at Queen Elizabeth Oval on Sunday when Cobram tall Esava Ratugolea booted a bag of eight goals.
Not since Steele Sidebottom back in the 2010 Grand Final had a Bushranger reached the double figures mark and at three quarter time when Ratugolea had seven goals straight, it looked like ten goals was more than achievable.
The bag of eight was the biggest by a Bushranger, since 2015 number two draft pick Josh Schache booted seven in the Bushrangers opening game for 2015. Like Ratugolea, Schache had seven goals to his name by three quarter time in a dominant day against the Pioneers.
There is no doubt that the Murray and Bendigo game has been one of the most viewed over the last few days, with Ratugolea’s haul catching the eye of AFL clubs.
Vic Country itself has begun the Under 18 Championships with a 0-2 record and have drafted Ratugolea into the squad for their game against South Australia on Friday at Etihad Stadium.
The 194 cm forward had a great accuracy in front of goal with his only behind on Sunday coming in the final five minutes of the match. Thirteen goals in three TAC Cup games will likely see him link up with Dandenong Stingrays forward Josh Battle inside 50 for Vic Country.
AFL Draft Central Reporter Matthew Grundy was at the match on Sunday, noting that “Ratugolea continued to show great work rate, kicking his sole behind late in the final quarter before sprinting to intercept a ball on the wing.”
An injury related start to the season saw Ratugolea miss preseason and the opening seven rounds of the year. However, Ratugolea’s work rate up forward means his knee is currently not causing him any concerns.
Ratugolea has the ability to work through the ruck, complementing the Bushrangers ruckman able to back them up in the centre of the ground where he has averaged 13 hitouts this season.
“Thought it was one of my best games for a long time…Didn’t think I’d be able to kick eight,” Ratugolea said.
“[I’m] pretty stoked, you can’t get much better than that. I’ve always dreamed at playing at that stage (AFL) and definitely will work hard to do it.”
Despite the return of Allies tall forwards Todd Marshall and Zach Sproule post championships, the eight goal haul will likely have done enough to keep Ratugolea in the team creating havoc for opposition defenders.
Recruiters are intrigued and Ratugolea will be watched closely over the next fortnight for Vic Country should he get a chance to debut in the white and blue.
In 2015, teammate Clayton Oliver bolted from nowhere after missing most of the Bushrangers preseason before being overlooked for state commitments. The strong bodied inside midfielder was then drafted at number four to Melbourne in November.
Esava Ratugolea spoke to AFL Draft Central’s Matthew Grundy in the rooms post his eight goal haul. Listen to what he had to say below:
AFL Draft Central will be live from Etihad Stadium bringing you all the access in Round four of the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships.