A two-haul by Marika Koroibete wasn't enough to save the Melbourne Rebels from a disappointing 32-17 loss to the Bulls, which blew their chance to regain the Australian Super Rugby conference lead.
The Rebels went into the Friday night match just a point behind the Brumbies, who had the bye this round, but were unable to capitalise on the golden chance on home turf at AAMI Park.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels refused to concede it was a large dent in their season and said there was still "a lot of rugby to be played".
"First half we played quite well - we played with a lot of tempo and played in the right areas of the field and I thought we created some pressure and I was feeling really good at halftime," Wessels said.
"Second half for whatever reason we moved away from doing those things and we gave the Bulls a lot of the type of possession that they enjoy, their forward pack started to get a rumble on and that was the game.
"It was a frustrating night for us."
Melbourne dominated everywhere - possession and territory - except for where it counted, on the scoreboard.
Too often an attacking error proved their undoing in a frustrating affair while the Bulls made the most of their limited opportunities to continue the Rebels losing run against South African opponents this season.
Koroibete scored a try in each half to double his tally for the season in his best performance of the year.
Wessels said Koroibete always worked hard and he was glad to see him get the recognition he deserved.
"He often does a lot of the donkey work because he's a winger who is really brave in contact and accelerates into it," he said.
"He's a world class winger for me and he plays with such intensity all the time."
Pushing his case for World Cup selection, the Wallabies winger was fired up from the opening whistle in a niggly contest against the men from Pretoria, who return to the top of the tightly-contested South African conference.
Koroibete opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Quade Cooper found Dane Haylett-Petty, who managed to pop a pass for the burly winger.
In a bizarre opening half Melbourne had 72 per cent of possession, 76 per cent of territory and had 84 runs to 27 yet trailed 17-12 and it proved an ongoing theme for the match.
Koroibete's second try, which came from a pick and go into the corner, levelled the score three minutes into the second half but they were unable to add to their tally from there.
Bulls winger Rosko Specman set up a try for Burger Odendaal and then scored one of his own as the visitors opened up a commanding lead.
Rebels star recruit Matt Toomua got on to the field in the 71st minute for his first appearance since arriving from UK club Leicester, but with Melbourne on the back foot he didn't have a chance to make an impact.