IT seemingly had a mortgage on the grand final not that long ago, hosting eight straight at one point, but Moree will host its first decider for six years after outlasting Pirates in an enthralling major semi-final on Saturday.
The Bulls last hosted the grand final in 2007 and will be back at Weebolla to tackle either Pirates again or Narrabri for the premiership after edging out the defending champions 24-22.
As the scoreline suggests, there was nothing in it and the result was uncertain until the final whistle.
“We were lucky to get away with that one,” a delighted but sore Bulls coach Damien Kelly said.
Not that they weren’t expecting it to be torrid and tight.
“We always knew it would be 80 minutes and there wouldn’t be many points in it,” he said.
He thought maybe four but said he would have taken 3-nil if it meant hosting the grand final.
It was a funny game.
After kicking first points just two minutes in, the Bulls led 16-10 at half-time but should have had more points on the board.
They had double the possession of Pirates and the better of the territory.
But some simple errors combined with some good defence from Pirates cruelled them and their only avenue to points for the first 25 minutes was Heath Riggs’s boot.
Pirates, on the other hand, made the most of their limited opportunities.
They scored two well-constructed tries, the first through centre Doug Biffin after Riggs made a mess of cleaning up a smart kick through from half-back Zeb Buchanan and conceded a scrum about 10 out.
Then, after Bulls centre Joe Henderson had slipped through from about 20 out, some nice inter-play between Buchanan and Conrad Starr created an overlap for Sam Bowden to get Pirates within a try.
“Because we were playing so well we got a bit keen,” Kelly said.
“What we were doing well we went away from a bit.”
His main message at half-time was to “lift/move/talk”.
“We were just flat,” he said.
It didn’t take immediate effect, with Pirates prop Ben Goodman bursting onto a short ball from Buchanan and scoring to give Pirates the lead eight minutes in with the
Matt Wannan finished up on the bottom of a driving maul from a lineout to regain the lead for the Bulls but it was short-lived with Pirates hitting straight back through Josh Stewart.
Riggs booted the Bulls back in front with 14 to go and they played most of the football from there, with Pirates confined to their half and the penalties mounting up.
There were still some nervous moments for Bulls supporters, especially when with 30 seconds to go and much to the dismay of Kelly, instead of running the clock down, they decided to throw it out to the backs. They knocked it on, giving Pirates one last throw of the dice.
But they were able to stop Pirates venturing too far into their territory and win the ball back.
Kelly thought they didn’t play as well as they could have but when they needed to, they were able to lift.
“It probably took a tackle from Ben Carrigan (with about 15 to go) to spark everyone,” he said.
They pulled off a few big tackles in a row after that and “everyone started running a bit quicker and running a bit harder”.
Riggs, aside from that early blemish, was great at the back and one of the Bulls’ best along with Ben Colley, Andrew McNamara and Kelly.
First grade’s win capped a successful day for the Bulls with seconds getting up 28-20 over Narrabri and the U18s producing a strong second half to beat Pirates 37-13.
The Pirates 16s were the first team through to the grand finals with a 60-nil thrashing of Inverell.