Wigan Warriors 18 Salford Red Devils 12: Adrian Lam's side 80 minutes away from a Grand Final
Wigan moved to within 80 minutes of a return to Old Trafford after a courageous display to beat Salford in their opening play-offs match.
The game was locked 6-6 at the break but two tries in three second-half minutes swung it in Wigan's favour - and they hung on until the death.
It ensures the Warriors head to St Helens next Friday with a place in the Grand Final up for grabs - and a second bite for the losers.
Salford fully contributed to an absorbing contest illuminated by some desperate, brave defending.
Lam will seek improvements to an attack which misfired for long spells. But the character and result provided ample compensation for the home fans in the crowd of 9,247 - Wigan’s lowest home attendance of the season.
And it marked an all-round good night for the Warriors, following the Under-19s' Grand Final victory against St Helens in an entertaining curtain-raiser.
Liam Farrell returned from a ban as Oli Partington dropped out through suspension, Chris Hanksinson replaced Dan Sarginson (hamstring) at centre and winger Liam Marshall's return nudged Bevan French to the bench.
Salford had Wigan-bound Jackson Hastings and Jake Bibby in their ranks, along with ex-Warriors Lee Mossop - on his first return to the DW - Logan Tomkins, Gil Dudson and Mark Flanagan.
Wigan had beaten Salford three times during the regular season but by half-time, there was nothing between them as they headed in with the scoreline 6-6.
Zak Hardaker pushed an early, and easy, penalty attempt wide and the highlight of a physical, scoreless first-quarter was Joe Burgess' electric run.
Wigan's aggressive style helped them dominate and they broke the deadlock when a crisp attack finished with Gildart stepping past a flapping Kris Welham to cross for a third successive week. Hardaker converted to make it 6-0.
Sean O'Loughlin came off the bench and the Warriors looked to have extended their advantage when Hankinson crossed, only for referee Robert Hicks to instantly rule it out - without consulting the video referee - for obstruction in the build-up.
Slowly, Wigan's performance began to deteriorate. There was a clunkiness to their attack, errors in their defence, and Hardaker's failure to defuse a towering kick led to a spell of pressure on their line.
Three minutes before half-time, Joey Lussick darted for the line and - though the video referee ruled out a try - they breached the hosts' line through George Griffin from their next play. Krisnan Inu's goal locked the scores.
Hastings, Salford's go-to man, gave his side the early ascendancy from the restart and Ken Sio twice went close in the corner to give Wigan an early fright.
They regained their composure, ramped up their defence - with Willie Isa leading their line-speed - and harassed the visitors. Under pressure, Inu threw a pass beyond Bibby's grasp, and an alert Thomas Leuluai pounced and plunged the ball down.
Hardaker converted to make it 12-6 and moments later, they tightened their grip of the game with a classy try from broken play. French, operating at stand-off, combined with Gildart to unleash Burgess down the wing, and George Williams was on his inside to sweep over. Hardaker again tagged on the extras to make it 18-6 heading into the final quarter.
But the Red Devils refused to lie down and Hastings evaded Farrell's grasp to cross for a converted try, reeling in Wigan's lead to six points.
The action was delivered thick and fast, with plenty of needle and a string of errors and penalties - Gildart conceded possession for patting the head of Welham after a spill, and Clubb and Hastings went head-to-head in backplay.
As the clock ticked down, Wigan's defence scrambled magnificently to repel wave after wave of Salford attacks and cling on to a gutsy win.
The Red Devils will host Castleford on Thursday in a sudden-death match, with the winners going to face the loser of the following night's derby.
Wigan: Hardaker; Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Clubb, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Flower, French, Greenwood, O'Loughlin.
Salford: Evalds; Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu; Lolohea, Hastings; Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy. Subs: Lussick, Walker, Flanagan, Lannon.
Referee: Robert Hicks