PRIOR to the season, Brisbane coach Chris Fagan said he was keen to tinker with the midfield mix.
When speaking to AFL.com.au in February, Fagan threw a lot of names around, including Cam Rayner, Zac Bailey, Jarrod Berry and Nakia Cockatoo.
Men that could change the Lions' dynamic with their pace and power to complement the grunt and pure ball-winning ability of Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons.
"We just have to work out ways to use that tremendous asset we have against opposition teams," Fagan said.
After three straight years of making the top four but not qualifying for a Grand Final, the Lions coach was looking for a point of difference against the midfield powerhouses like Thursday night's opponent Melbourne.
Another name he mentioned, and the man who has spent more time on the ball than at any stage of his six-season career, was Hugh McCluggage.
McCluggage has made a name for himself as an almost pure wingman in the early stages of his career, but that has flipped in 2022.
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The 24-year-old has been named in the 40-man Therabody AFL All-Australian squad the past three seasons without ever cracking the final 22.
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Statistics courtesy of Champion Data show McCluggage has spent more time in the middle of the ground and is a big reason why the Lions have nudged their way to the top of the table.
His time spent on the wing has plummeted from more than 60 per cent two seasons ago, more than 50 per cent last year and all the way down to 16.8 per cent this season.
That's meant his midfield minutes have increased from 31 per cent in 2021 – which included extra time in the seven-game absence of Neale – to 80 per cent this year.
Most of that has come at centre bounces.
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While Neale and Lyons still dominate in those attendance for Brisbane, McCluggage and Rayner have often split time as the preferred third midfielder.
This has opened up a wing role that has been rotated among Jaxon Prior, Berry and Callum Ah Chee to partner regularly used Mitch Robinson.
McCluggage has thrived in his new role.
Arguably one of the best kicks delivering the ball inside 50 in the competition, he is equal-second for score involvements and third for goal assists for the most potent attacking team in the League.
McCluggage has polled AFL Coaches' Association votes in seven of his 12 matches and sits just outside the top 10 in that Player of the Year award.
Fagan wanted to shuffle his midfield to match the best engine rooms in the AFL, and there's no greater challenge for McCluggage and the Lions than facing a backs-to-the-wall Melbourne at the MCG on Thursday night.