The Highlanders came from behind to beat the Reds 15-18 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
Lima Sopoaga’s 78th-minute penalty broke the deadlock, giving his side a hard-fought and rare victory on the Australian east coast.
This was not a classic.
It was a grind between two sides who kick away possession and make too many handling errors in good attacking positions.
The game was played without pace or tempo, industry or intensity: it was, however, a forwards battle royale.
The New Zealanders overturned an eight-point deficit before snatching the away win.
It looked like the Reds would get their country’s second positive result over their trans-Tasman rivals when Hamish Stewart finished off a well-worked move.
A 20-phase battering of the Highlanders’ try-line resulted in a 15-8 lead, early in the second half.
Liam Squire’s try and Sopoaga’s conversion levelled the game going into the final quarter.
The Reds scrum dominated the Highlanders pack in the first-half, winning three scrum-penalties which led to all their points.
It could have been more if Jono Lance had not missed a sitter.
Both standoffs traded penalties before Tevita Li’s 27th-minute try gave the visitors the lead.
Kayne Hammington switched play to the openside from the scrum.
Izaia Perese and Stewart could not get to the winger who raced to the corner.
The Reds scrum started to gain the upper hand, bulldozing their opponents and winning a penalty.
Lance could not reward his forwards for their effort, missing his straight-forward shot at goal.
Another strong scrum, a few minutes later, resulted in a penalty for the Reds.
This time, they opted to kick to the corner and go to their rolling maul.
Dillon Hunt came in from the side and the Highlanders collapsed the maul.
It did not matter because the Queenslanders powered over the whitewash
Brandon Paenga-Amosa got up with the ball, levelling the scores.
Lance’s conversion gave his team the lead at the interval.
The second stanza was mostly dour.
Both teams continued to waste good opportunities.
Aerial ping-pong and kicking for territory was the order of the day as nobody wanted to seize the initiative.
Rather, they waited for the opposition to make mistakes.
Stewart extended the Queensland lead to eight before the Highlanders broke their resistance at the death.
He took Samu Kerevi’s inside pass and crashed over after some patient build-up.
Lance took the ball to the gain-line and switched to Kerevi which opened up space for the fullback to run.
The following 15 minutes saw the Highlanders batter the Reds try-line.
Brad Thorn’s men held firm for long periods of pressure before Squire took Sopoaga’s inside ball and scored by the posts.
Sopoaga levelled the scores as the game entered the final quarter.
The next 15 minutes was a stalemate as the teams took to their conservative game-plan.
Eventually, the Highlanders rumbled their way into the Reds 22, going through multiple phases, waiting for the mistake.
It duly came after Izack Rodda’s no-arms block gifted Sopoaga the match-winner.
Reds versus Highlanders video highlights.
Final score: Reds 15 (10) Highlanders 18 (8)
Tries – Paenga-Amosa, Stewart
Pen – Lance
Con – Lance
Tries – Li, Squire
Pen – Sopoaga (2)
Con – Sopoaga
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 1: Jordan Way
Assistant Ref 2: Graham Cooper
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore
15 Hamish Stewart, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Moses Sorovi, 23 Aidan Toua.
15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.