The Lions will return to Super Rugby in 2014 despite losing 23-18 to the Kings in Saturday's second promotion/relegation play-off in Johannesburg.
After losing 26-19 in Port Elizabeth last week, the Kings needed to win and deny the Lions a bonus point to avoid relegation, meaning the final scoreline leaves them three points short.
An astonishing late comeback from the Kings nearly became a reality after Schalk Ferriera and Scott Van Breda crossed the whitewash in the final ten minutes, but it wasn't to be.
Stokkies Hanekom's yellow card in the 67th minute left the pre-dominantly home fans in Ellis Park biting their nails as the Kings unleashed their comeback, but there were sighs of relief when the otherwise excellent George Whitehead was unable to find touch with a long kick in the final minute.
The Kings had been largely written off before Saturday's fixture after ending up on the losing side last weekend in Port Elizabeth, but they made the brighter start this time out.
Two early penalties from Van Breda opened up the scoring as the Lions struggled with their discipline at the breakdown, a third shot at goal from the Kings' winger falling wide.
Elton Jantjies missed his first kick on his return to Ellis Park in a red jersey, but made no mistake the second time around as momentum swung back in favour of the hosts as the Lions' scrum and rolling maul began to wreak havoc.
The pressure imposed by the home pack then boiled over as livewire flanker Derick Minnie found his way to the line just before half-time, rolling his way over to secure the try as the Lions came back within a point - Jantjies squandering a simple conversion that would have put them ahead by more.
Van Breda instead curled in a third penalty of the first-half to leave the Kings 9-8 ahead at the interval, needing seven points to secure their Super Rugby future.
However they were unable to contain the Lions salvo after half-time.
A Jantjies penalty had the Lions back in the lead before Jaco Kriel, after sustained pressure from the scrum and maul, cantered into space down the left-hand side for the game's second try and what appeared to be the Lions ticket back into Super Rugby.
Hanekom's sin-binning changed the tempo of the match as the Kings came roaring back, but it wasn't to be.
Despite winning the fixture 23-18, the Kings fell two points short on aggregate and as a result the Lions will take their spot in Super Rugby next year.
Tries: Kriel, Minnie
Pens: Jantjies 2
Yellow card: Hanekom
Tries: Ferreira, Van Breda
Cons: Van Breda 2
Pens: Van Breda 3
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell (ca), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Shane Gates.
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Stuart Berry