The 2023 AFL season has well and truly ticked into the business end of proceedings, and with that, the on-field activity becomes increasingly captivating.
Discussion and debate about the state of umpiring, dangerous tackles and the MRO, 'wildcard' finals formats – and everything else of the like – has dominated the league's agenda to this point in the year.
However, as we edge excitedly closer to the flag-deciding matchups of this year, we also creep closer to the off-season; signalling free agency and trades!
As is the case every season, an array of appealing talent is potentially up for grabs.
In this three-part series, we're not necessarily analysing each club's biggest or most popular off-contract names. Rather, we've examined every squad's most intriguing crop of players whose contract situations provoke curiosity.
So, without further ado, let's explore the next six teams and their off-contract assets.
1. Geelong Cats
Ratugolea, whose trade is now defence following an inconsistent trial period as a key forward, has flashed immense promise in Chris Scott's backline at numerous points throughout his fresh defending stint, but is yet to put the complete package together with respect to consistency.
The versatile key-position Cat, while demonstrating his tantalising intercepting capability, is prone to lapses in concentration when tracking opponents' inside-50 leading movements, representing his current pertinent downfall as a backman.
Promisingly, though, the 25-year-old ranks 15th in the AFL in contested defensive one-on-one (CDOOO) loss percentage among key defenders that have played at least 75 per cent of their teams' games this year, losing just 22.5 per cent of his CDOOOs in 2023.
Glimpses of Ratugolea's full potential are plain to see, which is why it isn't surprising to see rival clubs circling Kardinia Park to acquire the tall's services.
However, for clubs such as Port Adelaide that have been rumoured to be particularly interested in orchestrating a trade for 'Sav', he is a non-free agent this year, increasing the difficulty of luring him away from Kardinia Park this year.
Further, a two-team exchange agreement for Ratugolea could be complex to arrange, as the ambiguity around his long-term defensive prospects means his trade value is hard to gauge.
If he isn't re-signed to a short-term deal before the season's out, question marks are slated to grow more prominent regarding Hawkins' footballing future.
The argument could be made that the 34-year-old has played at a high enough level to warrant a short-term contract extension, as Hawkins' 2.5-goal average in 2023 still ranks considerably among his career totals since 2007, and tops his career average of 2.3.
Hawkins is also currently fifth in this year's Coleman Medal race, ranks equal-fifth in goal assists, and is positioned sixth for score involvements, showcasing the elder statesman's continued undeniable game impact.
Albeit, there are also identifiable moments where the stalwart Cat has looked as if he's slowed down significantly since last season.
'Tomahawk' has constructed a near-simultaneous career to that of Richmond's Jack Riewoldt, who, in his own right, is virtually certain to hang up his boots at the cessation of the year; perhaps providing all the hint we need at determining Hawkins' playing status beyond 2023.
In addition to a 2022 premiership medallion and Norm Smith Medal triumph, Smith's 22.9 disposals-per-game average in 2021 – his debut Cats campaign – ranks as the best figure of his career. It's hard to argue his late-career recruitment to Kardinia Park hasn't been a rousing success.
While the Cats have slowed down since yesteryear's flag glory and may not repeat in 2023, Chris Scott's men still figure to feature this September, as Smith shapes to play a large role in that post-season effort.
However, in terms of his footballing status beyond this season pans out, the veteran's future appears a little cloudier.
Smith will have aged 35 years by the time next season is set to commence, leaving questions over how much football the running accumulator has left in him.
Smith has played in 15 games for the Cats so far this season, evidencing the ex-Hawk's longevity and perhaps pushing the idea of him playing on in 2024.
Like Hawkins', Smith's contract call figures to be a long-pondered decision after the season.