Bradford Bulls have lost their appeal against their six-point deduction imposed by the Rugby Football League for entering administration, the governing body has announced.
An independent sporting sanctions appeals panel comprising experts in financial law and insolvency met in Leeds a week ago to consider the case, but adjourned it in order to receive more information from the club and delivered their verdict on Wednesday evening.
The outcome will be a bitter blow to the Bulls, who are in deep relegation trouble in Super League with just two points, six adrift of nearest rivals Wakefield.
Bradford were docked the points by RFL's board of directors on February 25 after going into administration for the second time in two years and announced their decision to appeal on April 14 following the arrival of new owner Marc Green.
RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer called on the club to "move on" from the judgement but a Bulls spokesperson suggested it may not be the end of the matter.
The spokesperson said: "We are naturally disappointed with the panel's decision in finding that we did not meet the necessary threshold to allow our appeal to be fully considered.
"Prior to the appeal hearing, we had already taken initial legal advice on our options should the appeal fail. We will now pursue those options with a view to making a decision on how to take matters further forward in the belief that the decision made was wrong.
"Inevitably, there will be upset amongst our players, supporters and sponsors who have throughout been supportive - both on and off the field.
"As a club, we are doing all we can to repay the faith shown by our supporters. We are hopeful that ultimately our efforts will bring success."
Bradford and the RFL were treading uncharted water with the appeal. Wakefield and Crusaders accepted their fate after being docked points in the past for entering administration, as did the Bulls in 2012, but the stakes have been raised by the return of relegation, with two clubs going down to the Championship at the end of the current season to make way for a new 12-team Super League.
The announcement will come as a relief to both Wakefield, whose chairman Michael Carter had suggested he may consider his position if Bradford won back the points, and Salford, the Bulls' next opponents on Sunday.
Bradford coach Francis Cummins also suggested he would be glad to end the uncertainty one way or the other, saying at Wednesday's weekly press conference: "I just want a tap on my shoulder when it's all done and we can crack on then."
The RFL will feel vindicated by Wednesday's ruling.
Rimmer said: "The RFL accepts the decision of the sporting sanctions appeals panel and would like to place on record its thanks to the panel members for their professional and thorough approach.
"The unique nature of this panel, and the forensic nature of the investigations that have taken place, have made for a very complicated process which is now at a conclusion.
"The time has now come to move on and put this chapter in the history of Bradford Bulls behind the sport.
"Bradford Bulls chairman Marc Green and his fellow directors have acted in a proper and dignified manner throughout this process and their continuing commitment will ensure the club's future success."
The RFL says the panel will hand down a full written judgement within the next 14 days.