The Highlanders, a man down for most of the match through a red card, have produced a gutsy effort before falling to the Sharks 15-14 and their second successive one-point Super Rugby defeat.
The defending champions had inside centre Jason Emery sent off in the 13th minute for a dangerous charge.
Emery connected with an airborne Willie le Roux and the fullback was flipped over, landing upside down, on the back of his neck.
Despite the nasty fall, le Roux got back up, went for a concussion test and returned to the field midway through the opening spell.
The Sharks were also twice down to 14 players, with lock Stephan Lewies and centre JP Pietersen both sin-binned for professional fouls.
But the boot of inside centre Garth April, who landed all five of his penalty attempts, proved decisive in Dunedin on Friday night.
After Emery’s departure, the Highlanders made light of being shorthanded as they lifted the tempo and showed plenty of enterprise on attack.
But their adventurous spirit also contributed to their undoing.
With 10 minutes to go, they opted for a quick thrown-in just out from their line, found themselves under pressure and fullback Ben Smith’s clearing kick skewed off his boot and into touch just out from the corner flag.
The visitors used the field position to pound away and were rewarded with April’s fifth penalty.
The win broke a three-match losing streak for the Sharks, while the Highlanders have now lost two in a row, having gone down to the Queensland Reds 28-27 before last week’s bye.
With the Highlanders down 6-3, Lima Sopoaga was short with two difficult chances, before the home side decided against kicking for goal from a series of subsequent penalties.
Four minutes from halftime, a quick tap close to the line resulted in Lewies being sinbinned.
Locks Joe Wheeler and Tom Franklin were then both held up over the line to leave the Highlanders trailing at the break.
After April and Sopoaga each landed two more penalties, the Highlanders finally cracked the South Africans’ defence midway through the second spell.
With Pietersen sitting out the final minute of his sinbinning, the home side worked the ball wide and wing Matt Faddes dived under a would-be tackler to finish in the corner.