HUGH McCluggage is already one of the best, and most consistent, players in the AFL, and the Brisbane wingman is set to make another leap following a standout showing at the Lions' official return to training on Monday.
While former national steeplechase champion Harry Sharp led most of the squad's running reps in hot and humid conditions at Yeronga, it was McCluggage who pushed him all the way, taking the mantle from his good mate Jarrod Berry as 'best of the rest'.
The 23-year-old has been selected in the Therabody AFL All-Australian squad of 40 the past three years and was one of many senior players who trained last week, seven days before they were due.
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Although coach Chris Fagan was reluctant to single out individuals who had made big gains during the off-season, he couldn't help but smile when asked about McCluggage.
"I must admit I did look at Hughy last week and this week and think 'there's a bloke who's trying to go to the next level again'," Fagan said.
"That's encouraging because the level he's at now is pretty high.
"If he can keep going that's going to be great for him and more importantly great for us."
Nakia Cockatoo looked trim and fit, building on the back half of a 2021 season that finally saw him get some continuity in his body.
Noah Answerth (groin) and Cam Rayner (knee) also impressed, completing full sessions after missing all of last season.
Tall forward Eric Hipwood, who ruptured his ACL against St Kilda in July, also did plenty of running and even took a couple of set shots at goal towards the end of the two-hour session.
"Eric's been a little bit of a surprise to me, I didn't think he'd be moving quite so well," Fagan said.
"No doubt he'll be campaigning for an early return, but I wouldn't think that would happen, we've got to look after him.
"He'll probably be back sometime in May I reckon, which is good, it's better than August, better than September."
Father/son prospects for next year's NAB AFL Draft, Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher, also continued training with the Lions as they will for much of the pre-season.