Gordon has the luxury of being able to replace injured NSW Waratahs hooker Robbie Abel with one of the club’s most productive forwards of the season.
Losing the seasoned Abel with a serious ankle issue for Saturday’s sudden-death semi-final against Easts would rattle the side far more but for having a perfect replacement for Pittwater Rugby Park.
Non-stop Mahe Vailanu slips straight back into the starting side after a week off for a head knock and a stint in the backrow.
Abel faces three-to-six months on the sidelines with a tricky high-ankle sprain after being helped off early in last weekend’s 15-14 preliminary final win over Randwick.
“It’s really disappointing for Robbie but Mahe is a natural replacement who now gets to play in his favoured position,” Gordon coach Darren Coleman said.
Coleman is awaiting a final clearance on NSW Waratahs centre Joey Walton, who was dumped on his shoulder in the same clash.
Easts are dealing with their own major loss because influential No.8 Rob Leota broke his ankle when caught awkwardly in a tackle in the last play of last weekend’s 29-20 loss to Eastwood.
“Rob always plays with size and authority so we have to make up for that,” Easts coach Pauli Taumoepeau said.
“Gordon has done an incredible job to go through this season with only one hiccup, one loss.
“What we get from them more than other teams is how long they stay in the fight.
“This has to be 80 minutes from us because we’ve seen how Gordon can turn on super 10-minute periods and decide games.
“We were 1-3 at one stage this season and do-or-die in terms of staying in the competition so we’ve been in this position before and responded.
“(Lock) Jack Digby has again man-of-the-match for us last weekend and he’s definitely leading the way with how the forwards have to play.”
For Coleman, Gordon’s grand two-season rebuild from the cellar to title challengers hits the sudden-death stage.
“We match up pretty evenly with Easts and I would say it’s very close to the four best centres in the Shute Shield going up against each other,” Coleman said.
For Easts, the classy Waratahs duo of Alex Newsome and Lalakai Foketi will duel with Gordon’s explosive Tautalatasi Tasi and Walton.
SHUTE SHIELD SEMI-FINALS
SATURDAY at Pittwater Rugby Park
Gordon v Easts, 1.30pm
SUNDAY at Pittwater Rugby Park
Eastwood v Norths, 3pm (LIVE TV on 7Plus and 7Two)
This article was originally published on RUGBY.com.au.