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The side will break up for the season this week with the recognition it has improved a lot this season, but still came up short.
The side lost 23-15 to the Blues in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The Highlanders had little ball and no territory and made twice as many tackles as the opposition, but was ahead 15-13 with less than 15 minutes left.
Captain Ash Dixon was proud of his side, but still disappointed to lose.
The Highlanders culture of standing side-by-side and never giving in was there to see all night, but Dixon acknowledged the environment was changing around the team.
"I look at it in two ways. We have a culture and then we have the environment. The culture is our DNA — the way we play the game," Dixon said.
"But the environment, everything is changing. You go to talk to people and they are on their phones, talking to four different people on their phones. So it is changing and it has to keep changing.
"But we need to grow our second tier of leaders and get them coming through. But look at us now. Doing a haka before the game. The Highlanders doing that, who would have thought of that?
"So the environment will keep changing as guys come in but the pillars will stay the same."
Dixon said the Highlanders may have fewer resources than other sides, but that just let players get on with the job, which transferred to the way the side played.