Hipwood on track in AFL boost for Lions

Eric Hipwood is tipped to make a mid-season return in 2022 in a major boost for the Brisbane Lions.
Eric Hipwood is tipped to make a mid-season return in 2022 in a major boost for the Brisbane Lions.

Chris Fagan has tipped Brisbane spearhead Eric Hipwood to return to AFL action before the halfway point of next season, in what would be a boost to the Lions' premiership hunt.

Hipwood ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in round 17 last season, ending his campaign early and forcing Fagan to reshuffle his forward line heading into the finals.

The Lions exited in straight sets through losses to eventual premiers Melbourne and grand finalists the Western Bulldogs, leaving them with a 1-5 finals record over the past three years.

But signs are good for 2022 as the pre-season campaign clicks into gear.

Cam Rayner (knee) and Noah Answerth (groin) are training with the main group after missing all of last season, while injury-prone former Geelong livewire Nakia Cockatoo is in shape after playing the final seven games in his first year with the Lions.

Hipwood's predicted return by May next year shapes as another positive note, with Fagan admitting he has been surprised by the speed of the 204cm goal-kicker's recovery.

"I didn't think he'd be moving quite so well and no doubt he'll be campaigning for an early return, but I wouldn't think that would happen," Fagan said.

"We've got to look after him, he's an important player to us.

'He'll probably be back some time in May, I reckon, which is good. It's better than August, better than September.

"He's tracking really well and working hard and he's got all his teammates encouraging him, so it's good to see."

Fagan has also been impressed by wingman Hugh McCluggage, who has been in All-Australian contention for the past three years.

"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."

Brisbane have two father-son prospects for next year's draft - Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher - training with them over summer.

"It's a tremendous advantage to be able to have those boys along here training, just to get the feel of what pre-season is like," Fagan said.

"When you're a young kid and you get drafted, you wonder.

"These boys, hopefully we're able to draft them next year and they've already had the experience of a pre-season under their belt, and they come in already fairly wise about what's required."

Australian Associated Press