FINALS INTENSITY Both teams knew their season was on the line tonight and played like it was a grand final. It was brutal and nothing was left in the tank. It was ugly too - 27 penalties from the whistle of Kaplan. The Reds had to withstand a massive thrust from the Highlanders at the end but their defence on the line held up. The Reds were putting bodies on the line all over the place and it was a pilfer from the impressive Jake Schatz on Jamie Mackintosh that was the final say. Poor kicking from the visitors proved costly. Delany and Noakes both missed simple chances while Mike Harris (5/6) only faltered once.
HE'S BACK Quade Cooper's return from knee surgery took about 10 leaps forward tonight. He was man of the match and grew in confidence with every touch. He ran the ball strongly, the step was back on the menu and his passing and kick game was superb. He was throwing his body around with little regard for safety at the end and that's what probably impressed Ewen McKenzie the most.
PERFECT SCRIPT You can't write them like this. The Reds host the Waratahs next Saturday night in Brisbane, with a win giving them a strong chance of playing in the finals. The Tahs are dead in the water but they would love nothing more than to see the defending champions fall short of the top six. It's going to be a big build-up and a bigger occasion. The Reds have some injury worries though - Rob Simmons, Chris F'Sautia and Beau Robinson all left the field tonight, while Liam Gill and Digby Ioane are still no certainties to be available.
FULLTIME Reds 19 Highlanders 13.
79th min Cooper puts his body on the line and the Reds win the ball through Schatz. And the penalty! They are home. What a ripper of a finish.
79th min James Hanson with a try-saver! Highlanders go sooooooo close through Tim Boys but a penalty to the visitors. This is intense stuff. Reds under siege!
77th min Nice stuff from the Highlanders and Smith is clear! But it's called back for a forward pass. That's a tough call on them. Kaplan right in line but looked fine on replay. He's had an up-and-down night the referee. Reds concede a penalty from their scrum though. Danger zone in the final minutes.
74th min Another dubious one. Cooper penalised for knocking the ball down as he tried for the intercept. That's a tough one again and they may well pay. Here come the Highlanders... just metres away and they score! TRY to Chris King. Massive stuff. Reds lead 19-13 and they have missed again with the conversion! Simple one and Noakes this time hits the posts!
72nd min Highlanders get a good chance to strike back. Reds penalised in possession off the re-start and the blue-and-gold are five metres out and hammering the line.
70th min Penalty to the Reds right in front. Harris will eat this for breakfast. The Reds looking pretty good with the ball in hand tonight. They have certainly been tested by a very, very tough Highlanders side who aren't out of this by any stretch. Harris does the job and the Reds lead 19-8.
69th min Cooper growing in confidence with every touch at the moment. Takes a few risks as he makes a good run from fullback but does well to keep the ball alive. He set up Lucas before but he passed for some reason instead of putting the head down. The pass had already beaten the man for him. Reds on the attack at the moment.
67th min Reds go close but Harris is caught just short. He had Lucas open but didn't even look. Reds held up and now the Highlanders get the scrum feed. Great save from them.
63rd min TRY to the Highlanders. Adam Thompson crashes over. Just massive pressure on the Reds line and they put a few phases together after the scrum and fire it a few wide. Thompson too big from there and he spins over. Crucial try for the southerners. Delany misses the easy kick! Pressure everywhere. It's 16-8 to the Reds.
62nd min Now Genia penalised at the scrum. Right in front but the Highlanders want another scrum. A loss will sink their season.
60th min Reds penalised and Genia called out. Kaplan issues another warning about ruck infringements. Just sin-bin someone or don't sin-bin someone. Stop telling everyone you are thinking about sin-binning someone. Getting heated too - bit of niggle creeping in to this one. Great stuff. Reds under siege now.
59th min Harris... drops it over! Great kick and the Reds lead 16-3.
57th min TRY to the Reds. Great pressure, good quick ball in the face of strong breakdown attack and it goes through the hands to - wait for it - James Slipper on the wing. He was lurking out there and Cooper set it up perfectly. Wallace-Harrison throws the final pass and they turn pressure into points. Reds lead 14-3 with a sideline kick to come.
55th min Harris pushes it across the posts and misses his first one of the night. That's one of his easiest shots as well. Bit at stake here in Brisbane. Reds remain 9-3 leaders.
53rd min Kenny Lynn replaces Phil Burleigh for the Highlanders. Cooper's tactical kicking making some difference now. Stabs a good one in behind the Highlanders. Pressure building on the visitors and Harris will have a crack at another penalty. Reds lead 9-3.
50th min Bad news for the Reds. Rob Simmons being helped off with a knee injury. And Cooper gives away the penalty for... a trip? Huh? That's very tough indeed. Looked like he just dragged the ball-runner down and flung him to the deck. Bizarre stuff. Jarad Butler on now, the 19-year-old on debut, and the Highlanders muck up another line-out throw. Reds lead 9-3. Strange days at Suncorp.
47th min Count it. Harris makes it three-from-three. Reds lead 9-3.
46th min Reds penalty - Harris will take the shot from what is a difficult angle. They had the Highlanders under immense pressure and most have been tempted to take the scrum or line-out but a win is a win is a win at this stage of the season.
45th min Brilliant ball from Cooper! Flat and fast and long to Shipperley who puts his opposite number on toast. Reds eventually trapped after another great little kick from Cooper but they are in possession inside the Highlanders 22m zone. They are desperate for a try.
42nd min Aaron Smith on for Cowan for the Highlanders. Fair player off the bench. Both sides trying to get any tiny advantage they can in a fairly brutal contest. Reds 6 Highlanders 3.
41st min Players back on and some changes for the Reds. Robinson off, Schatz to seven, Samo on as well as Ben Daley for Holmes. Crunch time for both sides - a season could end in the next 40 minutes.
HALFTIME It's Reds 6 Highlanders 3. Harris misses a field goal from right in front and we're in for a desperate scrap in the second half.
39th min I thought Lucas may have made an error grubbering into touch so close to halftime but turns out he's a genius. Highlanders throw is crooked and the Reds get a final chance.
37th min Cooper really starting to threaten now. Ben Lucas on in the centres for the Reds after the injury to F'Sautia and he gets clear. Looks like the Globetrotters on the far edge but it finally goes into touch. Reds lead 6-3 as we edge closer to halftime.
34th min Oh dear. Chris F'Sautia in open space and may have gone all the way, or at least put Shipperley in a better spot. But the hammie goes and he pulls up lame! Off he goes. Bad luck for this very talented kid. They would have wheeled out the white curtain if he was a racehorse. Just broke down mid-stride.
32nd min Harris is on target. Reds lead 6-3 in a very tight affair. Not sure we're going to be seeing too many bonus points tonight.
30th min Penalty to the Reds. Wide out but Harris is handy. He's going to take the shot. It's 3-3 at the moment. Cooper starting to get himself into the game a bit more and looking dangerous.
28th min Genia in open play but Shipperley wouldn't come back inside! He would have gone close. Genia not too impressed with the young winger. Reds look the much better side in open space. It's just there's not much open space. Cooper almost had an intercept before that. Would have gone under the sticks.
26th min The Highlanders smashing the Reds at the breakdown. Every time the Reds get some momentum, it's turned over by the visitors. Real danger signs for Queensland I think. Highlanders with the ball on halfway. It's 3-3 and now a penalty for the Reds. Robinson does well on the deck. This is fairly painful to watch though.
23rd min Reds penalty. Running out of things to say about this. Then Cooper kicks wide for Higginbotham, who spends five minutes trying to catch it before being walloped into touch. Reds on the attack now though. Can we get more than three or four phases happening?
20th min The Reds pinged for a forward pass. Saia Faingaa gets up with a very puzzled look on his face and that's fair enough. Strange call indeed. Looked fine. In any case, more ball for the Highlanders. And another penalty. Holy moly. Kaplan's whistle is going to melt. It's 3-3.
18th min The Reds reckon they have scored as Higginbotham chases a kick but no dice. Touch judge rightly shows Quade Cooper offside but the number 10 did an amazing job to kick the ball again and keep it in play. Now the Highlanders get the penalty and take things up the other end. But they lose it. Reds to feed the scrum.
15th min The Highlanders getting hundreds of players into the breakdown. They win the penalty, than another. Both teams warned to be "more accurate" at the breakdown.... or else. Would have been a good night for the Reds to have Liam Gill. Oh well, I bet that experience he gained at the Under 20 World Cup was invaluable. Delany's penalty attempt... is wide. Score remains 3-3.
12th min Highlanders pile on some pressure but the Reds win it and get the penalty. Cooper kicks for touch. Highlanders piling bodies into the breakdown to slow the Red ball. Suspecting a stop-start night ahead of us. Reds 3 Highlanders 3.
10th min Harris is good. Reds square it up and it's 3-3 Reds and Highlanders.
9th min Reds get a penalty and Harris will step up. He's right in front and about 30m out. Five penalties so far. Could be a long night folks.
6th min Reds haven't touched the ball and that's the FOURTH penalty to the Highlanders in six minutes. Higginbotham judged at fault as he had a swipe at the ball there but he wasn't on his feet. They'll have a shot now. Delany kicks it. Highlanders lead 3-0.
5th min Another scrum penalty. Back we go again as they don't take the shot right in front. Slipper battling in the Reds front row here.
4th min Penalty to the Highlanders but they don't take the shot again! They are after a bonus point tonight. Great to see. They feed the attacking scrum just 15m out.
3rd min Just basic stuff from the Highlanders but the pick-and-drive comes undone. They fumble it a few metres out and the Reds feed a pressure scrum. No score at Suncorp.
2nd min Morahan lets a bomb bounce for some reason and pays the price. The Reds regain but are in from the side and concede the penalty. Highlanders may have had a shot but opt for touch.
1st min Formalities out of the way and the Reds start things off. Decent game of the 13-man code here the other night but the field looks in fairly good shape.
Preamble I'd love to say it's do or die for the Reds tonight but the truth is, it's been like that for some weeks now. The defending champions got the job done against the Rebels last week and need to finish the season with a pair of bonus point wins, ideally, to get to the finals. The Highlanders are still in the race as well so there will be no shortage of motivation from them tonight.
The Reds lose Digby Ioane (pneumonia) and Liam Gill (hamstring), with Beau Robinson starting as the openside flanker and Chris F'Sautia on the wing. Backrower Jarrad Butler stands to make his debut from the bench.
For the Highlanders, Jimmy Cowan could be about to play his last game for the men from Otago and gets the start at scrum-half tonight. They have the bye next week and he is off to play in England after the season. They'll be keen to send him out on a high and he'll be in Will Genia's face all night.