THE brave fighters from Randwick were desolate in the dressing room after coming within five minutes of the biggest Shute Shield upset of the year against minor premiers Gordon.
The Stags would have lived to fight another day even with a loss but it was curtains for Randwick as they slowly digested the painful 15-14 loss in the preliminary final.
All afternoon at Pittwater Rugby Park, the Wicks were within tantalising reach of a boilover.
The same club which had conceded 13 tries in an ugly 81-24 loss to Easts just seven days earlier played with transformed vitality both mentally and physically.
A late Triston Reilly try after standout No.8 Jeral Skelton had caught Gordon napping with a quick tap had given Randwick a 14-12 lead.
Not for the first time this season, Gordon five-eighth Rodney Iona stepped up with a big play.
He potted a clutch penalty goal to win it after Randwick hooker David Vea had been hit with his second yellow card of the game for ill-disciplined play at the ruck.
Gordon coach Darren Coleman has great admiration for Iona’s growth as a game-controller and steady head at 29 after playing around Australia, in England and France.
It was Iona who made a superb try-saving tackle in the corner when Randwick fullback Ben Donaldson looked certain to score late in the first half.
Iona was also at the core of the Stags’ two tries that were so hard to come by against a Randwick defence that often employed missile runners shooting out of the line.
At the 51-minute mark, he took on the line and fed powerful winger Ahmu Tuimalealiifano, whose charge created the bridgehead for try-sneak James Widders-Leece to burrow over.
Donaldson’s boot had Randwick ahead 9-7 just past the hour mark when Iona struck again.
This time, he fired a long triple-cut pass to Tuimalealiifano, who made a low fingertips catch look easier than it was for a key five-pointer.
Randwick had the chances. Winger Brooklyn Hardaker will curse putting down a pass with the line wide open but the men in green had much to be proud of.
The scrum gave Gordon a hard time while Reilly's try-saving tackle from behind to pull down NSW Waratahs centre Joey Walton was the desperation that electrifies finals.
Vea’s first yellow card did allow former Wallaby Adam Freier to get into the fray for 10 early minutes.
The 40-year-old replacement hooker was playing for Randwick in 1999 before iPhones were invented and Cher was topping the charts singing “Believe.”
Freier believed to the very end when he earned another few precious minutes in what will be the end of a long and devoted career for the famous club.
Coleman will not be unhappy with winning a scrap and the team playing with ragged edges.
Breezing through the regular season rounds by scoring 44 points per game teaches you little about finals but a tight one against an old foe adds plenty of steel.
Discarded Wallaby backrower Jack Dempsey made a few nice runs and Tuimalelealiifano was always dangerous.
Gordon will sweat on the fitness of hooker Robbie Abel, who is likely to have played his last minutes of the season after being helped off with an ankle injury.
Gordon are into next weekend's semi-finals but the Shute Shield is wide open.
GORDON 15 (J Widders-Leece, A Tuimalelealiifano tries; R Iona con, pen goal) defeated RANDWICK 14 (T Reilly try; B Donaldson 3 con)