The crowd at AAMI Park in Melbourne were treated to ten tries as the Bulls edged a determined Rebels outfit 41-35 on Friday.
It was a valiant effort from the home side, who pushed the Bulls from start to finish and will be left reeling after suffering their seventh defeat of the season that could so nearly have ended with a win.
They matched the Bulls in all facets of play, however two penalties by Morne Steyn ultimately proved to be the only difference between the two sides at the final whistle.
Kurtley Beale's switch from full-back to fly-half proved to be a masterstroke by the Rebels, with the Wallabies star causing all sorts of trouble from the pivotal position while his goal-kicking was flawless.
However, his opposite number was equally up to the task with ball in hand and from the tee to finish a gripping encounter with a personal haul of 21 points.
The result takes the Bulls top of the South African conference and overall standings on 42 points, albeit temporarily with the Chiefs (39) still to play the toothless Lions on Saturday.
The Bulls started favourites and it looked like the hosts were in for a long day at the office after wing Akona Ndungane raced in for the opening try of the match after five minutes played.
Steyn slotted the touchline conversion and the Bulls had an early seven-point lead in their debut match in Melbourne.
But the men in pink were then forced to play catch-up when Rodney Blake and then Cooper Vuna scored in the space of five minutes to give the Rebels a 14-7 lead after Beale - who played a hand in both - added an extra four points from in front.
The Bulls hit back through a converted try to Bjorn Basson soon after the restart that drew the scores level, but were then a player short when lock Flip van der Merwe was sent to the sin-bin.
Rebels flank Luke Jones joined the Bok lock a few minutes later thanks to his tip-tackle on Basson, that may come back to haunt him if cited.
So with the scores locked at 14-all and fourteen players on each side, it was an even contest at this stage of the match until Steyn slotted over his first penalty of the game.
Steyn extended his side's lead even further courtesy of a simple converted solo score that was cancelled out by the impressive Nick Phipps five minutes from the break.
The Rebels weren't done there, however, after captain Gareth Delve was rewarded for turning down a penalty kick on offer to score under the posts in injury time to cut the Bulls lead to just three points (28-31) at half-time.
Only some strong defence from the Bulls kept the Rebels at bay early in the second half as the hosts enjoyed plenty of possession, but ultimately they were unable to turn that into points.
It proved to be costly after Steyn put in a clever chip-kick to set up centre JJ Engelbrecht for a try as the Bulls restored their 10-point buffer with 20 minutes remaining.
The Rebels needed to score at least twice to pinch the victory and were given a glimmer of hope when Vuna got his second of the evening in the 65th minute to set up a thrilling finish.
Trailing by just three points, the Rebels once again had all the momentum, only for Steyn to punish another bout of ill-discipline from the hosts. The Bok pivot's second penalty left the Rebels six points behind (41-35) with seven minutes left on the clock.
And that's where it stayed after the Rebels tried in vain to exploit a gap in the Bulls' stubborn defence.
Tries: Blake, Vuna 2, Phipps, Delve
Cons: Beale 5
Tries: Ndungane, Basson, Steyn, Stander, Engelbrecht
Cons: Steyn 5
Pens: Steyn 2
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Tim Davidson, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Rod Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Johann Sadie.
By Dave Morris