A three-try effort from Malakai Fekitoa has helped the Highlanders edge the NSW Waratahs 40-35 in a free-flowing final Super Rugby trial.
The two sides secured five tries each, and despite Kurtley Beale having a perfect night with the boot with as many conversions, the home team won out.
Damaging centre Fekitoa found the tryline for the Highlanders in the opening two minutes before Waratahs captain Michael Hooper scored under the posts to help lock up the scores 7-all.
The next points were handed to the opposition through two penalty kicks to Lima Sopoaga, bringing the Highlanders’ lead out to 13-7.
Building some momentum with a try from Jed Holloway and another five-pointer to rake Tatafu Polota-Nau, the visitors broke out to 21-13 lead just before halftime.
But another great effort from Fekitoa in the shadows of the break ensured that margin was cut to just a solitary point.
The Waratahs were boosted by the likes of Tolu Latu, Jack Dempsey, Will Skelton, Bernard Foley, Zac Guildford and front-rower Matt Sandell, who ran on for his first Waratahs appearance in the second half.
Hooper also made some handy turnovers, while Israel Folau looked dangerous with a number of breaks in his first game back following injury.
The second half also had tit-for-tat tries but a length of the field effort to Fekitoa again gave the Highlanders a vital break at 32-28.
Former All Black Zac Guildford’s first try for the Waratahs left the Australians in a good position to push on for the win but yet another riposte from Ben Smith, together with an additional penalty goal from Hayden Parker, sealed the Tahs fate in the end, leaving the Highlanders with the final lead.
The Waratahs head back to Sydney to kick off their Super Rugby campaign Saturday after next against Queensland at Allianz Stadium.
The Highlanders play the Blues in Auckland next Friday night.