The Reds finished 2011 at the summit of the Super Rugby standings after recording a 19-11 victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
Errors once again haunted the Chiefs in what was their farewell to Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dwayne Sweeney, Aled de Malmanche and coach Ian Foster. They were painfully close to securing the perfect goodbye too as points went begging in a much-improved second-half performance.
Meanwhile the Reds were their usual classy selves as a masterclass of passing, kicking and ideas from Quade Cooper helped them home.
They will now have a fortnight off from rugby before the semi-finals, but they'll need every day of that to recuperate after prop James Slipper joined centre Anthony Faingaa, wing Digby Ioane and full-back Ben Lucas on the treatment table.
However, Ewen McKenzie will not be alone in worrying about injured players as Sivivatu gave All Blacks coach Graham Henry an unwelcome headache after he exited the field with 30 minutes gone due to a suspected shoulder dislocation.
Cooper and half-back partner Will Genia were patient with ball in-hand, showing all of their class in a game that the Reds knew required a professional performance. Young openside Liam Gill was also a standout player as he stole countless ball.
And it was the flanker who crossed for the opening try of the game on six minutes following some weak breakdown defence from the Chiefs. Cooper's conversion made it 7-0.
Cooper then added a penalty to help the Reds into a 10-6 lead after two shots at goal from Stephen Donald. The Wallaby playmaker landed further shots at goal in 51st, 56th and 60th minutes of the second half at Waikato Stadium to give the Reds a comfortable advantage.
But the Chiefs finally stood up and finished the game strongly, although it took until the 77th minute for them to find a way through the Reds' defence when Fritz Lee crossed powerfully after picking up from a scrum. The match was emotionally charged for the home side who have failed to make the play-offs and were therefore playing their final match of the season.
Pen: Donald 2
Pen: Cooper 4
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Save Tokula, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Matt Vant Leven, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Dallan Murphy, 22 Caleb Ralph.
Referee: Keith Brown