Moree gave it their all in Saturday’s qualifying final, producing one of their best performances of the season.
But it wasn’t enough in the end as Pirates snuck home 31-28 in what was an 80 minute arm wrestle for hosting rights for the grand final.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Bulls skipper Nathan Ebbett said.
He admittedly thought they “had that”.
“I kept looking up at the scoreboard and the time ticking down, and I wasn’t concerned,” he said.
“We just needed to get the pill.”
Even when they went 10 down with just three minutes to play that belief didn’t waver. Justifiably, with Josh Walker crossing to make it a three point game with a minute remaining.
They had one final shot but were ruled to have fumbled the kick-off.
Still it was a big turnaround from a side that was well-beaten by arch-rivals Narrabri in the final round.
“I think we definitely played a lot more of the 80 minutes than we have done the last few weeks,” Ebbett said.
“The boys stepped up and played our game a lot more.”
They didn’t really do a lot wrong but in a game of little moments there were a few where the Bulls might have done things differently, had they had their time again.
One was the period while Andrew Moodie was in the sin-bin.
The Bulls spent the majority of the time – some of it down a man themselves – attacking Pirates line, but some poor options and mistakes at critical times hurt them.
Ebbett thought there were a lot of areas where they excelled.
Defensively they shut down a lot of Pirates’ play, the forwards really stepped up and gave them a lot of momentum and the backs were dangerous.
“I take my hat off to the backs, they surprise me every week,” he said.
Jamie Sampson’s try in the first half epitomised that.
It was one of the most satisfying moments of the game for Ebbett, having effected the steal that sparked a counter-attack those in his homeland would be proud of.
Spinning the ball wide Sampson floated a perfectly-weighted 20m pass to put centre Jordan Cosh into space. Cosh then found winger Mitch Adams, who turned the ball back inside to Sampson.
The New Zealand native said it was great to look up from deep in the Bulls’ half and see Sampson running away to score.
The conversion leveled the scores.
Cosh then swooped on a loose ball to put the Bulls ahead, but two tries inside the last 12 minutes, the second with only a minute-and-a-half on the clock, saw Pirates take a 19-14 lead into half-time.
Matt Wannan reclaimed the lead for the Bulls early in the second half but Pirates hit back not long after and were never headed from there.
Ebbett said it was a “great team performance” but did note the efforts of John Adams up front and Wannan at number eight.
In the backs Sampson was again electric while Cosh was strong in the midfield.
The Bulls now host Walcha next Saturday for another shot at the premiers.
Their second grade are though through to the decider after eclipsing a 17 point deficit to roll Narrabri 24-17.