The Highlanders' play-off hopes were dealt a major blow when they went down 38-31 to the Reds in Brisbane on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The Reds, who came into this one on the back of a six-game losing streak, turned in their best performance of the season to claim the bonus-point victory and lift themselves off the foot of the table.
The Highlanders had only themselves to blame after a sloppy first half left them with too much to do, as they fell agonisingly short in their quest to overturn a 21-0 deficit. They contributed to their own downfall, though, with some poor decision-making and a string of handling errors in the first 40.
Curtis Browning opened the scoring for the Reds from close range before Lima Sopoaga gifted Rod Davies a try after fumbling a Will Genia kick over the tryline. Dom Shipperley claimed the Reds' third following more clever work from Genia, as the Highlanders seemed helpless in the face of the Reds' onslaught.
They managed to get on to the scoreboard early in the second half through a Sopoaga try, before another error from the flyhalf gave the Reds a scrum on the Highlanders 5m line. The visitors scrum then capitulated under the pressure, and the Reds had their bonus point, courtesy of Jake Schatz.
The Highlanders responded with a try of their own through Richard Buckman before Hayden Parker, on for the woeful Sopoaga, traded penalties with Mike Harris.
Patrick Osborne then grabbed an interception try to give the Highlanders a sniff, before Fumiaki Tanaka dived over in a frenetic last few minutes. Parker levelled things up, but there would be one final twist.
The Reds, showing a belief that has been lacking all too often for them this season, made their way deep into the Highlanders territory. They kept it tight and bashed away at the line. It was left to Schatz to crash over in the 83rd minute and bring a thrilling game to a conclusion.
Reds – Tries: Curtis Browning, Rod Davies, Dom Shipperley, Jake Schatz (2). Conversions: Mike Harris (5). Penalty: Harris.
Highlanders – Tries: Lima Sopoaga, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Fumiaki Tanaka. Conversions: Sopoaga (2), Hayden Parker (2). Penalty: Parker.
Reds – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images