Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall admitted in the build-up to yesterday’s game against Hunslet Hawks at the Summer Bash at Bloomfield Road that it would ‘take a miracle’ for the club to retain its Championship status.
Even that might not be enough to prevent the drop into League One after they suffered a 14th defeat in as many starts.
But if they continue to play as well as they did yesterday then at least they will go down fighting.
Unlike many games this season, the Dons kept going for the full 80 minutes with several players – notably young prop Mitch Clarke –producing their best performances of the season.
Fellow front-rowers Matt Groat and Matt Carbutt, who joined the club from Hunslet four years ago, also showed up well as did second-rower Steve Snitch and returning skipper Kyle Kesik.
The Dons gambled on young scrum-half Richard Wilkinson, who had only recently returned to full training following a second cartilage operation this season.
But it was a gamble which paid off and he helped give the Dons, who went into the game without any dual-registered players, the direction and organisation at half-back they’ve missed most of the season.
Hunslet drew first blood, centre Jimmy Keinhorst, one of several Leeds Rhinos’ players in their side, going over from a kick.
The Dons hit back when Wilkinson latched on to a wayward pass, as the South Yorkshire side looked to move the ball in the Hunslet 20, and went over for his first try of the season.
Hawks swooped again, as the Dons’ defensive line speed started to drop off, with full-back Jimmy Watson and centre Danny Maun scoring well taken tries to make it 16-4.
Veteran Shaun Leaf, the sole survivor of the team beaten 60-0 by Salford on the same ground in the 2008 Northern Rail Cup final, closed the gap with a second unconverted try.
When winger Tom Hodson scored in the corner after the break to make it 16-12 the lively Dons looked to be in with a chance of victory.
But a penalty and a fourth Hunslet try dashed their hopes.
Dons: Scott; Doherty, Welham, Cowling, Hudson; Nicklas, Wilkinson; Groat, Emmett, Clarke Snitch, Kelly, Dunn. Subs: Spiers, Carbutt, Kesik, Leaf.
Hunslet: Watson, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Maun, Finigan; Kain, Ansell; Yates. Ward, Haley, Martin, Casey, Mackay. Subs: Flanagan, Mulhearn, Lyons, Mvududu.