Their finals hopes appear over but Illawarra Lions face a test of character over the final five rounds beginning with Saturday's away clash with fifth-placed Holroyd Parramatta.
The Lions's deflating 52-point defeat to second-placed Macquarie University left them seventh, three wins and percentage behind Parramatta Goannas.
The Lions will face leaders Balmain and Pennant Hills (fourth) in the next fortnight, leaving them in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season against the top-five clubs in consecutive weeks.
Illawarra began their season-defining run with a home victory over UTS Bats to rekindle finals hopes in their first season back in Sydney First Division since 2004.
Now Lions player-coach David Nolen wants his side to finish the season strongly.
"In many ways this has been a rebuilding year, there's still a lot to play for," he said.
"We want to finish on a positive note and we showed against the Bats, and even early on against Macquarie Uni, we are a team capable of beating the top sides."
Lions fullback Sam Wilson is playing well on his return from a back injury and was outstanding in holding Macquarie Uni spearhead Tim Cameron to just two goals.
The defensive unit all played well, while on-baller Peter Lloyd continued his fine season with another strong effort against the Warriors.
Meanwhile, in South Coast AFL, Northern Districts moved up to third for at least a couple of days after a 58-point victory over Shellharbour on Wednesday night in their rescheduled match.
The Tigers thrashed weakened premiers Wollongong Bulldogs by 53 points last Saturday.
The win over Shellharbour meant they leapfrog Bomaderry into third spot.
But with Norths having the bye in round 14, Bomaderry can reclaim third with a victory over winless Albatross.
In the other round 14 games, Wollongong will again field a depleted side against Figtree at Figtree Oval while Port Kembla host leaders Kiama.
SOUTH COAST LADDER:
Kiama 20, Wollongong 18, Northern Districts 18, Bomaderry 16, Figtree 12, Shellharbour 10, Port Kembla 6, Nowra 4, Albatross 0.