THE Dons scored two late tries to record a dramatic 20-18 Championship One win against an impressive Whitehaven at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The Cumbrians must have fancied their chances of completing the double over the Dons, who started the game just one place above them, when leading 18-10 with just ten minutes to go.
But the Dons’ never-say-die spirit, which has served them well throughout the season, saw them snatch a thrilling victory over a Whitehaven side who could prove dark horses in next month’s play-offs.
The Cumbrians had the better of the opening exchanges and twice tested winger Stu Sanderson with high kicks to the corner.
Dons half-back Craig Fawcett tried the same tactic on nine minutes with on-loan winger Mike Coady out-jumping his opposite number Craig Calvert on the line to score in the corner. Scott Spaven’s touchline conversion sailed just wide of the far post.
With stand-off Lewis Palfrey directing operations, Whitehaven continued to look dangerous but the Dons defence held firm under pressure close to their own line.
Whitehaven turned defence into attack in the build-up to their first try on 20 minutes.
Former Widnes second-rower Lee Doran intercepted a pass by Fawcett five metres from his own line and made it as far as halfway before being nailed by full-back Mick Butterfield.
But the Dons relief was short-lived as winger Loz Hamzat raced in from 40 metres out to score under the posts to present Palfrey with a simple conversion to earn his side a 6-4 lead.
Tony Miller’s men hit back strongly with a spell of sustained pressure in the Whitehaven 20, but they could find no way through the visitor’s last line of defence.
Whitehaven weathered the storm and increased their lead on 34 minutes, Hamzat touching down in the corner from close range following a bout of excellent handling from left to right in the Dons’ 20.
Palfrey added a superb touchline conversion to give the visitors, who had looked slightly more dangerous with ball in hand in the final third, a 12-4 lead at the end of a keenly-contested half.
The Dons started the second half in a determined mood and their efforts were rewarded when hooker Kyle Kesik forced his way over from close range for a 43rd minute try which Spaven converted to leave his side just two points adrift.
Whitehaven full-back Craig Benson, who failed to field Spaven’s kick ten metres out, gathered the ball in the nick of time to deny Kesik a second try.
It then took tremendous defence on the line to prevent big Paul King from scoring during a spell of Whitehaven pressure.
Had the bounce been more favourable from Spaven’s kick, the impressive Butterfield would have backed himself to score from 20 metres out on 58 minutes.
As the game entered its final quarter, the intensity showed no signs of easing.
The Cumbrians gave themselves more breathing space on 63 minutes as prop Luke Isakka drove over from acting half-back for converted try.
The 18-10 deficit left the Dons, who traditionally finish strongly, needing to score twice to salvage a result.
Fawcett threw the Dons a lifeline on 71 minutes, stepping past a couple of defenders close to the line to present Spaven with an easy conversion.
A splendid break by Butterfield took play to the Whitehaven 20. From the following play-the-ball, the Dons moved the ball to the left where centre Nev Morrison scored a 77th minute unconverted try to win what had been a cracking game.
Dons: Butterfield, Sanderson, Morrison, Spurr, Coady, Spaven, Fawcett, Scott, Paul Hughes, Crawley, Robinson, Edwards, Carl Hughes. Subs: (all used) Kesik, Dee, Carbutt, Sampson.
Whitehaven: Benson, Hamzat, Wiper, McAvoy, Calvert, Palfrey, Gerrard, Culnean, Smith, Isakka, Miller, Doran, Beattie. Subs: (all used) Sice, Hill, Farrer, King
Referee: Ronnie Laughton