THE Tier 1 finals plot thickened on Saturday, with Pirates pegging back a 20-point deficit to snatch a draw with Moree and Narrabri defending its way to a win over Gunnedah.
The Blue Boars’ backs were to the wall for a lot of the second half but they withstood the Red Devils’ advances to take the points 20-7.
It was enough for them to reclaim the competition lead but only just.
They just hold sway on Pirates on wins, with Pirates managing to pick up three points from their 27-all draw with the Bulls.
They could have returned home with more.
After clawing their way back from 27-7 down, they had the chance to snatch victory at the death, with Jake Douglas breaking through but the pass to Andrew Moodie looming in support went to ground.
It was a pulsating end to a game that twisted and turned but in which both sides struggled to really get any momentum, with the whistle blowing regularly.
The Bulls had the better of the first half and led 20-7 at the break.
That became 27-7 within the first few minutes of the second half.
“We had 12 players on the field at the time,” Pirates coach Andrew Verrell said.
They had lost number eight Conrad Starr, a couple of minutes later hooker Tim Collins and then right on half-time, Doug Biffin to the bin.
They clawed their way back to 27-24 and then, with about five to go, “eventually” – and after “much ranting and raving from the coach” – took a shot at goal to level.
They’d had several opportunities in the minutes before but turned down the points, instead going for the tap.
The three sin-bins capped what was a “pretty ordinary” first half.
“We made too many turnovers and errors,” Verrell said.
In fairness, it was hard to attack. They were playing into a howling wind, which the Bulls took good advantage of.
The wind was in Pirates’ favour in the second half.
“We were able to play a bit of field position and time in possession and had an opportunity to get in behind them,” Verrell said.
“When we got in behind them we were gone, which has been the case for the last three or four weeks.”
Douglas was great again and got the three points and players’ player followed by Biffin and Collins.
Bulls coach Damien Kelly said Saturday was a lot better than the Narrabri and Gunnedah games.
“At least we didn’t have that flatness,” he said.
He was still frustrated, although a fair bit of that stemmed from the penalties, a lot of which were at the ruck.
“We kept speaking about having to play to the ref,” he said.
But they didn’t do that, not that he was using that as an excuse.
“That lead should have always been defended,” Kelly said.
He thought they were all over Pirates up front, at least in the first half.
They scored a pushover try and were awarded a penalty try after another strong scrum.
But they couldn’t get any traction in the second half and made a few defensive errors.
Skipper Ben Colley led the way for them and earned the three points, winger Rob Solesse the two and number eight Matt Wannan the one.