The Reds edged the Highlanders 38-36 in an enthralling Super 14 clash that went down to the wire at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
The Reds edged the Highlanders 38-36 in an enthralling Super 14 clash that went down to the wire at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
Trailing by six points and with two minutes left on the clock, Reds' replacement Poutasi Luafutu crossed for his second try of the match which was converted by Quade Cooper to win the game for Queensland.
The Highlanders had a chance to snatch victory after the full-time siren, but full-back Israel Dagg's long-range penalty attempt fell short.
The hosts led their visitors 24-3 at half-time, but the Highlanders hit back with five tries after the break in an inspirational second-half fightback that deserved more.
In one of the most topsy-turvy matches in Super Rugby history, the Reds showed their intent from kick-off with in-form winger Digby Ioane scoring after just 38 seconds.
Cooper put on a show as he produced an outstanding first half by scoring one try and setting up the three others to Ioane, Radike Samo and Peter Hynes – all of them exhilarating five-pointers.
The home side's first-half momentum disappeared with the sin-binning of veteran lock Van Humphries following an all-in brawl just before half-time. Humphries was yellow-carded after reacting to a facial from Highlanders scrum-half Jimmy Cowan with an open-handed strike which sparked an ugly melee.
The signs didn't look good after the restart with Dagg swivelling out of a lazy Ioane tackle and chipping over the top of Cooper to score inside 60 seconds.
Soft tries to prop Chris King and explosive winger Fetu'u Vainikolo saw the Reds big lead disappear and at 24-22, the Brisbane fans were worried. Their fears were realised in the 63rd minute when Vainikolo brushed off Ioane for his second try and a five-point advantage.
With the Reds down 29-24 late in the game, it was Cooper who popped up by combining with Hynes from a kick return to put super sub Luafutu over for his first try of the match.
Highlanders hooker Jason Rutledge stole the lead back but Luafutu's second try from a driving maul with one minute left levelled the scores at 36-all.
Cooper then stepped up again to land the conversion from near touch to send the 26,700 crowd into hysterics.
The result moves the Reds up to their final placing at fifth which is an extraordinary improvement from their 2009 season where they finished thirteenth.
It was a fitting end for the Reds' season, and Ewen McKenzie deserves most of the plaudits for inspiring the Queenslanders and also providing a blueprint for success.
Man of the match: A razzle-dazzle display from Reds pivot Quade Cooper, that included setting up four of his side's tries and scoring one himself makes him a worthy winner of this award. Oh, and he kicked a match-winning conversion.
Tries: Ioane, Hynes Cooper, Luafutu 2
Cons: Cooper 4
Tries: Dagg, King, Vainikolo, Rutledge
Cons: Dagg 4
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Jake Schatz, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Van Humphries, 4 Radike Samo, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Jack Kennedy, 18 Ezra Taylor, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Ed Quirk, 21 Brando Va'aulu, 22 Richard Kingi.
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Peter Mirrielees, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 John Hardie, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.