The Dons failed in their bid to become the first side to lower Rochdale Hornets’ colours at Spotland - going down 21-8 on the final day of the regular League One season.
But despite being without a handful of regulars, they made second-placed Hornets battle all the way and will take encouragement ahead of the crucial Super 8s.
Hornets bossed the opening exchanges and the Dons, for whom winger David Foggin-Johnson produced a try-saving tackle on his opposite number, struggled to make much ground with ball in hand.
Hornets deservedly took the lead on six minutes when hooker Ben Moores forced his way over from acting-half back near enough for stand-off Paul Crook to convert to make it 6-0.
The Dons levelled on 11 minutes, loose-forward George Milton sending prop Connor Scott over for his fourth try in two games.
Australian scrum-half Jordie Hedges, taking over the kicking duties from the injured Tom Carr, added the extras.
A torrential downpour made handling more difficult but Hornets continued to look dangerous on their left flank and there was a let-off for the Dons when scrum-half Danny Yates failed to take centre Lewis Galbraith’s inside pass 20 metres out.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic and Foggin-Johnson was within inches of a try after cutting in from the wing following a bout of good handling.
Centre Sam Doherty made a timely intervention as Hornets again threatened down their left flank.
The Dons, who had declined an earlier shot at goal from similar range, eased into a 8-6 lead on 34 minutes with a successful Hedges penalty.
Hornets spurned the chance to level from a kickable penalty in the pursuit of a second try and the ploy may well have paid off but for some tremendous goal-line defence.
The Dons had given a good account of themselves in the first half and would have led by more had Hedges been successful with an angled injury-time penalty.
Hornets drew first blood after the restart, winger Corey Lee squeezing in at the corner for an unconverted try on 48 minutes to give his side a 10-8 lead. Foggin-Johnson was again equal to the task when Hornets tried a blindside move close to the line.
On another day the Dons may have gained some reward from a Kieran Cross grubber-kick following an excellent off-load by Jack Walton.
Aarron Jones-Bishop was bundled into touch just short of the line after good handling from a scrum.
But they fell further behind when Yates raced in for a converted 58th minute try to make it 16-8 after latching on to a kick 25 metres out.
The momentum was with Hornets at that stage but the Dons remained in the frame until Hornets added a late try and drop goal.
Dons: M Welham, Foggin-Johnson , Doherty, Tali, Jones-Bishop; Sheriff, Hedges; Aizue,Wright, Scott, Walton, L Welham, Milton. Subs: Cross, Braham, Castle, Picketts-O’Donnell.