Doncaster failed to upset the odds in their Championship play-off tie against favourites Leigh Centurions.
But they made the Lancashire club work harder than many expected given their injury problems and were still within striking distance until the final quarter when Leigh ran in three unanswered tries – two by centre Tom Armstrong.
Dons got off to the worst possible start, second-rower Kurt Haggerty charging over unopposed for a converted try after just two minutes.
But the visitors dug deep and drew level on nine minutes.
Player-coach Paul Cooke shrugged off a defender close to the line to touch down for Stu Sanderson to level.
The Dons stunned the home crowd on 13 minutes when scrum-half Richard Wilkinson jinked past several defenders to touch down under the posts.
Sanderson added the conversion and also popped over an easy penalty a couple of minutes later to make it 14-6.
Both sides bombed good chances before a quickly-taken brace by centre Michael Platt levelled the scores. Leigh struck twice in the dying minutes of the half to lead 24-14.
The Championship’s top try-scorer Ryan Brierley raced away for a converted try.
Full-back Greg McNally then raced through a tired-looking defence to score in the corner.
The Dons found themselves under siege in the opening ten minutes of the second half and did well to deny Leigh a further score.
Scott Spaven was held on his back over the line on 56 minutes in the Dons first raid of note this half.
Leigh extended their lead with a 62nd minute drop goal and the Dons suffered a double blow on 67 minutes, losing centre Liam Welham with a hand injury and Brierley darting over for a second converted try.
Dons: Scott, Hodson, Whelan, Morrison, Sanderson, Cooke, Wilkinson, Carbutt, Kesik, Robinson, Dunn, Colbon, Emmett. Subs: Castle, Spaven, Spiers, Wilson.
*Doncaster will have to beat Sheffield Eagles at the Keepmoat Stadium on Sunday to stay on the Championship play-off trail.
Victory over Leigh would have put them straight through to the semi-finals but joint captain Kyle Kesik admitted: “They deserved to win but I don’t think the scoreline reflected the game.”
The hooker admitted that he had made a crucial mistake in the first half when bombing a certain try which would have made it 18-6 with the conversion to come.
“It was a bad mistake,” reflected Kesik, who threw out a pass, subsequently intercepted, when looking certain to score himself after he had made a 30 metre break.
“I didn’t back myself,” said Kesik, playing his first game since breaking his hand.
“I thought their full-back would get to me; I didn’t realise how close I was to the line.
“We came back well but we started to make too many handling mistakes and you can’t do that against the top sides,” said Kesik.
“They got back on level terms and then scored twice just before the break.
“We still felt that we were in with a chance and we put them under pressure midway through the second half but they scored another three tries in the last 15 minutes.”
He added: “We’ve picked up another couple of injuries and we are down to the bare bones but we’ll get ourselves up for the Sheffield game. It’s going to be tough, they have hit form in recent weeks, but you have to beat the best to win any competition.”