Central North preliminary final: Moree Bulls season ended by Walcha Rams

Moree Bulls’ grand final hopes have been dashed after a disappointing loss to Walcha in Saturday’s preliminary final.

The loss of Walcha five-eighth and talisman Simon Newton late in the first half due to injury wasn’t enough to stop the visitors from charging home to a 34-26 victory in front of a strong crowd at Weebolla Oval.

The Bulls came out of the gates strong, with Josh Walker putting the first points on the board.

A Walcha penalty saw the score 5-3, before a Bulls try and conversion made it 12-3. Ed Cordingley then went over the line for Walcha in the dying seconds of the first half to narrow the score 12-8 at half time.

The second half saw Walcha run away with the game, scoring the next 26 points.

Pushing into five-eighth, Pat Keen bumped off Bulls five-eighth Jamie Sampson and pushed his way over to put the Rams ahead with half an hour to play, and they were never headed from there, the inside centre sealing the victory with a runaway effort with just over 10 minutes remaining.

Bulls five-eighth Jamie Sampson put Ben Williams through with a pin-point pass that dissected the Rams midfield with eight minutes on the clock. Five minutes later half-back Nick Smith crossed the line for the Bulls and a successful conversion brought the margin back to 12, but it was too late.

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Bulls co-coach Mick Grant said it was a “disappointing” end to the season.

“I think we gave it our all,” he said. 

“It’s just very hard to take, some of those penalties, we couldn’t work them out. We had guys driving 90km to training one way and training every Tuesday/Thursday and to come here and be reffed like that, it’s just disappointing, it just took us right out of the game.

“We’re playing finals footy and I can’t see our discipline being that bad.

“Those 50/50 calls we just didn’t seem to get. That’s what hurt us the most I think. We just had no ball that second half and Walcha capitalised on that.

“We had a man in the sin-bin for an alleged offside. With a side like Walcha you need your 15 men on the field all the time.”

Grant said his side did “everything” right, which makes the loss even harder to take.

“That’s the hard thing, they did play well,” he said. 

“It was just those 50/50 calls where they could have went either way, we just couldn’t seem to get them. Once you start getting penalty after penalty, it’s hard to get into the game and then they doubt themselves, everything that they do they start to doubt themselves.

“It’s disappointing. I think we were the better side, especially in that first half but Walcha just kept showing up, they’re a very good side.”

Matt Wannan and Sam Callow were Moree’s standouts on the day according to Grant.

“They both had big games carving up in the middle,” he said.

Grant said full credit must go to Walcha on their strong performance, especially without their star player.

“They showed up, and they just kept coming,” he said. 

“They were good. Obviously with Newton going off early in the first half there we thought we had a very good chance. But they just kept showing up together, they’re a very strong side.”

Grant wishes Walcha all the best in this Saturday’s grand final clash as the Rams face last year’s premiership winners, Tamworth Pirates in a re-match of the 2017 first grade grand final.

Now all the Bulls’ premiership hopes will rest on their second grade side as they enter their sixth straight grand final this Saturday against club rivals Narrabri Blue Boars.