Another unbeaten run came to an end on Saturday as the Sharks found themselves outplayed 25-13 against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium.
Another unbeaten streak came to an end on Saturday as the Sharks found themselves outplayed 25-13 against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium.
The season's 'entertainers' were never going to claim this hefty scalp by taking their visitors on up front. So their usual game-plan of expansive rugby duly suited their task, leaving the Sharks lacking answers to impressive home questions.
From the off it was the Durban-based franchise who came out firing though, and with Ben Lucas seemingly blind to two quick-fire charge-downs from JP Pietersen then one as he attempted to clear from the base close to his own line, it seemed clear who sat where in the standings.
Territory was also in the Sharks' hands as 2009 title murmurs continued to increase in volume, with assured figures all over the field, not least an all-Springbok front-row and centre partnership.
However, the latter combination was nowhere near their usual full flow in Brisbane as both Francois Steyn and Adrian Jacobs found life extremely difficult against their Australian counterparts.
The Reds duly weathered that early storm though, as those aforementioned statistics began to level up due partly to the international class of Berrick Barnes' fine distribution and running lines.
Lucas then made up for his earlier misgivings as another wide move stretched the Sharks' tacklers before young pup Blair Connor stepped inside off the first phase, leading to his now calmed scrum-half continuing down a short blindside. Twelve minutes had passed and with space running dry, Lucas threw a superb over-head pass to the supporting Adam Byrnes who grounded the opener.
That score dispelled all the doubters' views that the contest was to be one-way traffic as the sizeable Queensland crowd sniffed an upset and duly rose to their side's efforts.
Three more points then followed on 23 minutes as flanker Scott Higginbotham showed a great turn of pace to burst through the Sharks' midfield before throwing a horror pass that failed to find any one of three supporting players. But that consolation soon came as a grapple tackle allowed the Reds to extend the arrears.
However, that penalty goal was Lucas' last action as he left the field injured moments later with a lively Will Genia entering the fray in quite blistering style. First, Leroy Houston bustled his way through into the wide-open spaces before Connor offloaded well to the try-scoring replacement.
Where were the Super 14 favourites? Not too far away was the answer as Rory Kockott cut the gap to nine points with two sweetly struck penalties as the Sharks began to find their rhythm.
But just as it looked like the hosts were beginning to crave James Leckie's whistle, Hugh McMeniman and the busy Connor continued their good night's work before the wing was taken high in contact – Barnes sending his side in 18-6 at the break.
The hairdryer treatment was surely given by boss John Plumtree as the Sharks returned a different team and contributed to Mark McLinden receiving his temporary marching orders for slowing down the ball on his own line.
A subsequent pattern began to emerge in Brisbane soon after as Leckie was close to sending another Red to the sin-bin for a 'lifted tackle' but for not finding a number. We did and Genia was a lucky man for getting away with that offence.
The off-the-ball incidents continued to mount up in favour of the Sharks and it should have seriously dented the Australian's hopes of four season-boosting points had Kockott found his range.
But as has become the case so often this year, with an hour gone there was still no change to the half-time scoreline as a Super 14 contest dropped in tempo…until 65 minutes. Kockott snapped up the loose ball and saw space behind the Reds' back-line with Ryan Kankowski in full flow to gather and ground to bring the scores back to 18-13.
All roads pointed to a grandstand finish with the Sharks surely setting up camp downfield. However, centre Steyn's horror performance continued inside his own in-goal area as he put down a Kockott pass to bring unwanted pressure that the Reds lapped up.
And it proved to be their undoing as Wallaby winger Peter Hynes continued his impressive twelve months with a break inside the Sharks' 22 before the recycled ball saw Genia flick a superb pass to Digby Ioane as the Reds' celebrations began.
Man of the match: Credit must go to the attacking options created by Berrick Barnes as he was the man directing traffic particularly during the first period. However, the forward effort in both attack and defence from Scott Higginbotham and Leroy Houston was key to the Reds' success.
Tries: Byrnes, Genia, Ioane
Con: Barnes 2
Pen: Lucas, Barnes
Yellow card: Mark McLinden (Reds) – slowing down the ball on 45 minutes
Reds: 15 Mark McLinden, 14 Blair Connor, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Berrick Barnes (c), 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Adam Byrnes, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Jack Kennedy, 18 Ezra Taylor, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Will Genia, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Rod Davies.
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Touch judges: Ian Smith (Australia), Stephen Hill (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Assessor: Glenn Wahlstrom (New Zealand)