MOREE defied a valiant Gunnedah and a shortage of possession to keep its hopes of back-to-back titles alive at Weebolla Oval on Saturday.
The Bulls will now face the loser of next week’s major semi-final after outlasting the Red Devils 32-24 in a pulsating minor semifinal.
It was arguably closer than many had anticipated with the Red Devils, as they did when they last visited Moree, taking it right up to the premiers.
They were always trailing, but never hovering too far away and enjoyed the better of the territory and possession.
“It was tough,” Bulls coach Damien Kelly said.
“We played too much football in our own half, which we have been guilty of doing a few times.”
He reckoned they spent probably 80 per cent of the game tackling.
It made it difficult to mount any pressure, but importantly when they did get down their end they took away points.
That was, Kelly felt, one of the defining factors in the win.
“The little ball we had we able to convert into points,” Kelly said.
“I thought we achieved that.”
They engineered some brilliant attack at times, with at least three of their tries involving three or four sets of hands without going to ground.
The intent was evident early with half-back Andrew Pauli scoring after just four minutes following captain Ben Colley’s weaving 30 metre run, which beat three or four defenders to get the Bulls deep into their opponent’s territory.
But they had to quickly transition into defensive mode with the Red Devils camping on their line for about the next 10 minutes.
The Bulls defence held firm and, aided by some impatience from the Red Devils, they were able to limit the damage to just a penalty.
They stretched their lead further not long after with outside centre Jordan Cosh on the end of a well-orchestrated move from a lineout, but the Red Devils hit back straight away – Josh Howarth picking and twisting his way over after a Bulls mistake.
John Adams muscled his way over to restore the Bulls lead to nine, but then right on half-time prop Josh Leys delivered a deft pass to propping partner Cameron Kesby to cut the lead back to just two points at the break.
But as quickly as they were back in it, they were out of it with the Bulls scoring two quick tries to push out to a 16-point advantage.
The first started from back about halfway and best summed up what was good about the Bulls attack with some great play to keep the ball alive.
As was the case in the first half the Red Devils dominated possession and territory after that and got back to within nine with under 20 minutes to go.
That was as close as they got though with Heath Riggs – in his 200th game – sealing the victory for the Bulls with a late penalty.
Red Devils co-coach Tim Walsh, while understandably disappointed, was proud of his side.
“The effort was fantastic. Everyone tried and tried,” he said.
“We were there right to the end.”
In the end it was the Bulls ability to keep the ball alive and those early missed opportunities that undid them.