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Tevita Nabura looked to have stolen victory for the Highlanders at the death but his second finish in the corner was eventually scrubbed out, after being originally awarded.
Josh McKay was at his elusive best for the Highlanders, while Tim Nanai-Williams' brilliance and Tiaan Falcon's footwork shone for the Chiefs.
The Highlanders, playing in a strip akin to a road worker, found success targeting the breakdown and produced one big scrum.
The Chiefs picked their moments to attack, content to kick for territory when under pressure.
Players coming from the field were clearly spent with fans and wet towels keenly used.
The Chiefs led 12-7 at half time and while they banked up a first up win, there was only millimeters in the match-deciding decision.
Blues make blistering start
If the Blues' dominant opening victory is anything to go by, Melani Nanai could cause havoc this weekend.
Nanai scored two tries as the Blues pasted the Reds 29-7 but the strike finisher looked dangerous on the edge with every touch, leaving defenders for dead with his sharp step and pace.
Temperatures at Suncorp Stadium hit 31 degrees and both teams made use of rolling subs but it was the Blues applying the blowtorch.
While the Reds looked inept at times, blowing simple draw and pass movements and missing too many tackles, the Blues took their chances well after leading 10-0 at half time.
Teenage prodigy Caleb Clarke grabbed a try and Jordan Trainor produced a deft chip and chase but it was a supremely dominant team performance.
Carlos Spencer is yet to take the field but the former All Blacks playmaker must have liked what he saw.
Robbie Deans' Panasonic Wild Knights came from 17 points down to defeat the Melbourne Rebels 19-17 in the first match of the day.
Desipte Conrad Smith's best efforts, French club Pau looked well off the pace, downed 31-10 by the Waratahs.