Alex Neal-Bullen (Glenelg)
Height: 182 cm
Weight: 77 kg
Strengths: Contested ball winning ability, handskills in traffic, work rate
Areas of improvement: Decision making by foot, top speed, size
Player comparison: Toby Greene
Alex Neal-Bullen is the typical hard nosed inside midfielder who relishes the contested side of the game. Though his footskills aren’t great, he’s a hard working and versatile inside midfielder who’s sure to get the best out of himself at AFL level.
Having played as a small forward and midfielder in the SANFL reserves last year, Neal-Bullen made the step up to the seniors this year and hasn’t looked at all out of place off half back and through the middle, averaging 15 disposals per game before the championships and 21 per game since. At the championships he averaged 19 touches, 10 contested possessions, four tackles, four inside 50s and five clearances per game to be one of South Australia’s best and very unlucky to miss out on All Australian honours. At every level Neal-Bullen has played at he’s stood up and performed and is arguably the second best performing under 18 in the SANFL this year behind Caleb Daniel.
Neal-Bullen’s best work is on the inside. His ability to win the contested ball is elite as is both his distribution by hand and ability to burst away from the contest. He also possesses great footy smarts on the inside; his ability to read the tap is excellent, his positioning and ability to find space where there shouldn’t be any is brilliant and his ability to put others into space is fantastic.
While his inside work is excellent, Neal-Bullen also excels in other areas. He’s versatile, having played off half back and through the middle in the SANFL and also rested forward in the championships. When forward he doesn’t look out of place, because of his positioning and ability to read the game. Though he only scored four goals in the championships, it can also be said his teammates didn’t take advantage of the fact he constantly appeared in dangerous places.
Neal-Bullen is also very fit and someone who should test highly in the 3 km time trial and beep test at the combine. He uses his fitness really well, making sure he’s at every contest to give his all. He’s also able to run his opponent into the ground when not in the play.
Unfortunately though, Neal-Bullen isn’t the complete player. With the direction today’s game is going he’s undersized for an inside midfielder and he doesn’t excel enough on the outside to make up for that which is why he isn’t considered a top 20 prospect by many. His first thought is to kick the ball and as a result he averages over two kicks for every handball, a very high number for an inside midfielder. Compounding that, kicking is not a strength in his game. His kicks often miss targets, result in turnovers or put the receiver under unnecessary pressure. Technically his kicking is sound but too often he just makes the wrong decision or tries to do something far too creative for someone of his ability. His first instinct both on the outside and inside is to bomb it long. While he may get away with that at a lower level, it’s something that needs to be rectified if he is to be a successful AFL player.
If Neal-Bullen is to really make it at the next level he needs begin to have more presence on the outside and utilise his exceptional handball more often as well as improving his kicking efficiency and decision making. If those parts can all come together, with his already exceptional inside work and track record of success against the big bodies of the SANFL, there’s no reason why Alex Neal-Bullen can’t become a high level AFL player.