Will Ashcroft poses for a photo during Brisbane's official team photo day at Brighton Homes Arena on February 1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

WILL Ashcroft says he was "shattered" to miss Brisbane's Grand Final run last year, but now, after 342 days on the sidelines, the young Lion is back.

Ashcroft ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Geelong on July 22 last season, wiping away the tail end of a wonderful first year in the AFL.


However, following more than 11 months of rehabilitation, the former No.2 draft pick and son of triple premiership Lion Marcus will return this weekend.

Brisbane is yet to confirm whether he will play Melbourne at the Gabba on Friday night or Coburg at Brighton Homes Arena on Saturday.

Speaking exclusively to AFL.com.au, Ashcroft described the emotional rollercoaster he'd ridden since crumpling to the Gabba turf.

"You just don't know how to react. A split second it happens and all of a sudden I'm back home in Melbourne getting surgery and it's all over that quickly," Ashcroft recalled.


"It's hard to grasp because of how quickly it happened, especially how the team was trending, how excited I was looking forward to playing finals and what was to come there from a team aspect.

"It was definitely difficult. It's been a very long journey full of ups and downs.

"I can't believe it's been 11 months. I'm just very grateful for the support network I've had around me at the club, but also my family and friends. They've been a huge support."

Ashcroft managed 18 games in his debut season before being struck down, fitting seamlessly into a midfield that contained Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale, Josh Dunkley and Hugh McCluggage.

His creativity forward of centre was a feature, averaging 22 disposals, kicking eight goals – including the NAB AFL Goal of the Year – and proving the ideal complement to an already high-performing unit.


The 20-year-old initially bunkered down in the family's Melbourne home, watching younger brother Levi and sister Lucy play at their respective school and club levels to get his "footy fix".

Then he had to watch the Lions march all the way to the biggest game of the season at the MCG.

"It was hard from an individual perspective, I just wanted to be out there and I was shattered I couldn't," he said.

"From a team perspective it was awesome to watch the boys win those couple of finals and then play in the Grand Final.

"It was definitely a whirlwind of emotions when I was a couple of months down the track."

Brisbane players look dejected after their Grand Final loss to Collingwood on September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Ashcroft was meticulous with his recovery, saying short-term goals were important to prioritise and chase. Whether that was putting muscle on his upper body, working on his 'touch' or keeping his mind engaged, it all played a crucial role.

He spent time in the coaches' box this season, seeing footy from a broader perspective.

He had to learn patience, particularly when chasing a quicker recovery led to swelling around the knee and a delay in his timeframe.

"If you're improving to some degree every week … you're going to be a better footballer and person at the end of it," Ashcroft said.

"I can't count the number of things my mum and dad did for me during that time when I wasn't as able and couldn't do as much and was a bit flat. 

Will Ashcroft in action during Brisbane's clash with Melbourne in round 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"They were an awesome support.

"You learn a lot about yourself and the people around you when you go through a tough time. When it gets tough, in those darker days early, they were there to rally around me."

Now on the cusp of a return, the ambitious midfielder expects an immediate impact that can help Brisbane surge into the top eight for a sixth straight season.

"I'm driven and expect high standards of myself … I want to come in and make a huge impact and be a lot better than I was last year," he said.

"I've done all this work behind the scenes that people don't see, but I'm ready and we've taken that extra time to make sure I'm really ready so that I can launch into this back half of the year and be fresh and fit and firing and ready to go.

Will Ashcroft in action during Brisbane's clash with Melbourne in round 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I've got big expectations on myself and always have and that'll only continue.

"I want to try and break the game open more, run and take the game on a bit. 

"I did a bit of that last year but want to add to that and combine that inside and outside craft. We have a lot of versatility in our group. 

"It's a team game and I'll fit in how the coaching staff see fit. I'm coming in to compete, I'm hungry, I've been out for so long and I'm fresh and ready.

"We've got a third of the season left … I'm hungry to get after it."