If there's a silver lining for Brisbane following the season-ending knee injury to young star Will Ashcroft, it's been the return to peak form of vice-captain Hugh McCluggage.

When Ashcroft crumpled to the turf in round 19 against Geelong, the confirmation of a ruptured ACL rocked both the No.2 draft pick and the club, which had quickly grown fond of the ultra-professional 19-year-old.

Following a couple of weeks of adjustment to their midfield rotation, the Lions clicked, putting Port Adelaide to the sword from stoppages in Saturday night's qualifying final win at the Gabba.

They kicked 13 goals directly from clearances, with best on ground McCluggage at the helm.

His 26-disposal outing, including nine clearances and 12 score involvements – both match highs – to go along with a goal, was good enough to get a perfect 10 votes in the Gary Ayres Award.

It continued a fine run of form for the smooth-moving midfielder, who by his own admission was below his best in the first half of the season.

Statistics provided by Champion Data show that McCluggage has increased his impact dramatically in the six matches since Ashcroft's injury.

He is now spending significantly more time in the midfield (65 per cent, up from 50 per cent), with the result being a big jump in clearances, score involvements, score assists and ultimately his Player Rating.

Hugh McCluggage - Time in Position



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Speaking on Tuesday morning prior to Brisbane's training session, McCluggage said his form is about far more than playing increased midfield minutes, though.

"I think I have definitely improved in my basics of the game in the back half of the year, been a little bit cleaner, my ball use has been a bit better," he said.

"With the positional change, playing a little more inside, you're going to be around the contest a little bit more and it means you're maybe going to have a few more possessions, but I still felt like as a wingman and forward earlier in the year I was letting myself down with a few parts of my game I considered non-negotiables and that has nothing to do with the position you're playing."

McCluggage has set an incredibly high bar for himself, being named in the All-Australian squad of 40 (or 44) the previous four seasons.

Against Port, he showed every bit of his class, with three goal assists to complement his evening, including a trademark pass to Joe Daniher in the third quarter that lured the full-forward to the ball with its deft weighting.

Hugh McCluggage




AFL Player Ratings








Contested Possessions




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Score Involvements




McCluggage paid credit to his skipper Lachie Neale, saying the 2020 Brownlow medallist had been a great example to his teammates while being tagged most weeks.

"You never like to see one of your best players get tagged and followed around, but when he's able to do the things he did on Saturday night, block for teammates, work really hard and not let it affect his workrate, it definitely helps for other players to get off the chain," he said.

"It doesn't just happen. If Lach just sat back and accepted defeat when he gets tagged nearly every week, it'd be tough for us guys to have any impact.

"It's as much his good work as it is any of the rest of us doing anything extra special when he's getting tagged."

Brisbane now has another week off to prepare for a preliminary final at the Gabba against either Melbourne or Carlton.

Forward Jack Gunston, who has missed the past three matches with a knee injury, is hopeful of putting his hand up for selection for what the Lions hope will be their penultimate game of the season.