PIRATES will meet Moree today for the first time since the Bulls’ gripping win in last year’s major semi-final to host and ultimately win last year’s grand final.
Both sides again have their eyes on the prize and are spruiking today’s game at Tamworth’s Ken Chillingworth Oval as their biggest test so far.
“Pirates of recent years has probably been the hardest place to win,” Bulls coach Damien Kelly said.
The Bulls have managed it a couple of times but will have to play a lot better than they have been.
Pirates, too, will have to be better than they were against Walcha last week – at least the first half.
They were, by their own admission, terrible.
But with some of their big guns back in the fold, coach Andrew Verrell isn’t worried about that happening today.
“We’re essentially back to the team that played Gunnedah,” Verrell said.
And convincingly beat them.
The only issue is a cloud over breakaway Josh Stewart. He’s nursing an ankle injury and isn’t certain to play.
The Bulls, similarly, look like being without number eight Matt Wannan.
He would be a big loss, Kelly said. They get a lot out of his go-forward.
Kelly hasn’t been entirely happy with how they have been performing but, by all reports, they did play better last week against Inverell.
“I’m hoping that continues,” he said.
It needs to, and they particularly need to switch on for 80 minutes.
“We’ve got to start well and not stop,” Kelly said.
“You rest against a side like Pirates and they can hurt you very quickly.”
They have been prone to lapses this season.
“If we have a 20-minute rest like we have been doing it’ll be all over,” Kelly said.
He identified the breakdown battle as being the key.
“Both sides like to contest the ball,” he said.
The usual names cropped up for danger players, but it’s inside centre Jake Douglas who Kelly is most wary of.
He saw a bit of him for Central North and was impressed.
“He takes some stopping,” he said.
“The more he touches the ball the more pressure we’ll be under.”
Pirates aren’t talking revenge but know how big a win would be for their season.
“Everyone understands the importance of it,” Verrell said.
He isn’t expecting the Bulls to operate much differently to what they did last year.
“I don’t think there’ll be a lot of unknowns,” he said.
They know what’s coming at them but, with that, what they need to do.
“Our first focus we’ve talked about is our ability to defend,” Verrell said.
If they can deny the Bulls the opportunity to get over the line that will give them the chance to get on the front foot.
Their scrum also has to improve.
“We have had some problems there in the past,” Verrell said.
Last week they were caned by the Rams there but, with they forwards they’ve got returning, Verrell expects they will be better there.