The heartbreak of season 2021 continues for Southern Districts, falling to their third 3-point loss of the year at the hands of a resilient Gordon outfit at Chatswood Oval.
Souths looked to be on track to shake their recent hoodoo against Shute Shield heavyweights yesterday, until a Jake Abel try in the 87th-minute burst any thought of victory and slumped the Rebels to yet another agonising loss against a finals destined side.
The loss sees Souths slide to tenth on the Charter Hall Shute Shield ladder, with a Round Three victory against Warringah and three bonus points to their name.
With upcoming matches against the Wildfires, Manly and Randwick, the next month is set to truly define the capabilities of this Rebels outfit and their capacity for Shute Shield finals in 2021.
By stark contrast, the late victory sees Gordon sitting pretty in the upper echelon of the ladder, trailing the likes of Uni, Norths and Eastwood who each are yet to hit their bye round.
In a match where lead changes were more prevalent than tries, it was Souths who struck the opening points of the match through the ever-reliable boot of Christian Kagiassis.
Ten minutes later and the defending premiers were on the board, after sloppy ball from a set piece saw the Souths defenders at a stand-still. Talimoni Finau, who was strong in attack all day for Gordon, took full advantage of the lethargic Rebels defence, slicing through effortlessly before finding Gordon speedster Mike Pavlakis in support to open the Stags account.
But the lead was to be short lived, after a beautiful inside ball found Rebels fullback Fred Dorrough, who skilfully evaded Gordon defenders to draw in the opposing fullback and find a rampaging Josh Bokser to score under the posts.
Following the conversion from Ryan Menzies, the visitors were again in front 10-7.
However, it was again some sleeping Souths defence that allowed Gordon back into the contest, with Highlanders lock Manasa Rokosuka catching the breakdown defence napping to waltz over untouched for the home side's second in the 30th-minute.
Despite some attractive attacking play from Souths in the lead up to half time, failed execution and costly penalties negated any positive progress.
With neither side able to distinguish themselves in the tight tussle, Souths began to take advantage of some errant Gordon penalties.
Two penalties goals to Christian Kagiassis saw yet another lead change, with the visitors restoring slight scoreboard dominance at 16-14.
With Gordon fullback Jaline Graham shown yellow in the 64th-minute for an illegal tackle, momentum was shifting towards the Rebels.
The visitors took advantage of their extra number soon after, with a bullocking run from Andrew Tuala sending the Stags defenders scrambling backwards, before a beautifully weighted cut out pass found an unmarked Ryan Menzies in the corner.
But the defending champions refused to roll over, and moments later Gordon again cut into the deficit after a huge scrum effort saw possession shift and scrumhalf Jake Abel quickly dart from the base of the scrum to dive over the line.
With the game in the balance at 23-19 and the final siren already rung, the Highlanders class and fitness shown through.
THE GAME: Reds claim thriller
REACTION: The JOC miracle
THE OTHER FINAL: Crusaders down Chiefs
Repeated scrum efforts close the visitors line begun to expose a tiring Rebels pack. After replacement prop Airi Hunt was shown yellow for repeated infringements the Stags pressure was too much, with Jake Abel again calmly controlling the ball and the base of the scrum before diving over to seal an epic victory in the 87th-minute of play.
Southern Districts focus now shifts to the Hunter Wildfires in Round Six, after the Newcastle side demolished the Penrith Emus 86-10 yesterday at home. It’s a must win for the Rebels, who need competition points to show for some positive early season form.
Gordon face another tough assignment next weekend as they prepare to face Randwick at Coogee Oval.
In other results around the ground, Easts were too strong for the Two Blues 50-8, Norths just edged out a brave West Harbour 22-15, Warringah clinched a nail-biting 40-37 win over the Woodies, the Wildfires flogged Penrith 86-10 and Sydney Uni kept their perfect record intact with a 48-13 win over Manly.