Wakefield, under veteran Australian coach Brian Smith, have preserved their Super League status with a nail-biting 24-16 win over Bradford in the inaugural STG1 million ($A2.2 million) game at Belle Vue.
The Wildcats’ 17-year stay in the top flight went on the line in the one-off game to decide the 12th and final place in Super League for 2016, and it needed a try from hooker Scott Moore a minute from time to finally settle a tense affair.
Wakefield won just six times in their 30-match campaign but they triumphed when it mattered most under Smith, who was brought in by chairman Michael Carter mid-season with a brief to keep the side in Super League and must now decide whether to stay with them for next year.
It was a hat-trick of great escapes for the Wildcats, who survived thanks to a 29-17 last-day win over Castleford in 2006 and earned a reprieve in 2011 when Crusaders pulled out of Super League.
However, they were pushed all the way by Bradford, who were a shadow of the side that suffered a 48-18 hammering at Belle Vue six weeks earlier.
The Bulls enjoyed most of the early play, with prop Paul Clough held up over the line and winger Matty Blythe losing the ball as he attempted to cross at the corner.
It was against the run of play when the Wildcats scored the only try of the first half, skipper Danny Kirmond striding through the visitors’ defence after neat passing from halfbacks Jacob Miller and Pita Godinet.
Joe Arundel added the conversion and crossed the line himself shortly afterwards, only to be brought back for a forward pass as Wakefield began to dominate.
Bulls loose forward Danny Addy had a try disallowed during a rare foray into the home side’s 20-metre area and, as stalemate set in, Arundel was wide with a penalty kick at goal and Miller failed with a drop-goal attempt.
When prop Anthony Mullally, who had a spell on loan with Bradford in 2014, charged through a gap for Wakefield’s second try three minutes into the second half, the game looked to be heading towards a predictable conclusion, especially when Jordan Tansey converted to make it 12-0.
However, the game sprung to life as the Bulls hit a purple patch to score twice in five minutes.
A superb pass around his back by the Bulls’ captain Adrian Purtell got winger Danny Williams over at the left corner before Blythe profited from a ricochet to touch down on the right.
Wakefield loose forward Danny Washbrook then took Miller’s pass to glide over for a third try but it was a two-point game once more when Purtell crashed over for the visitors.
Addy kicked his second goal and he had a chance to level the scores three minutes from the end when the visitors were awarded a penalty, but his kick went wide and Wakefield raced away to clinch victory through Moore’s jinking run, with Tansey kicking a third goal.