Melbourne Rebels aim to be a contender and it could happen one day, but at AAMI Park on Saturday night they found they still have much to learn.
Reigning champions the Highlanders controlled possession and were cleaner in both attack and defence as the Rebels' fumbles saw them lose 27-3.
The Rebels' effort and application cannot be questioned, but their ability to retain possession and make decisions under pressure was found wanting.
Rain before kickoff and before the second half made for tough handling while the speed and ferocity of the Highlanders' defence punished them any time the ball didn't go cleanly to hand with 18 turnovers costly.
Great champions learn from their losses. If the Rebels do make the finals this season they will no doubt have corrected the shortcomings exposed by the Highlanders.
It was hard to imagine a worse first half for the Rebels. The Highlanders had 63 per cent of possession in their half and peppered the home side's defence.
The Highlanders dominated the opening 15 minutes and five-eighth Liam Sopoaga dropped his distance penalty kick into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 3-0.
The Highlanders had their first try when fullback Jonah Placid spilled a high kick and centre Rob Thompson was first to the ball, toe-tapping it over the try line then beating Dom Shipperley to ground it, with a conversion making it 10-0 on 24 minutes.
Sopoaga kicked another penalty from 30 metres out to make it 13-0 on 32 minutes.
Against the run of play the Rebels' threw caution to the winds and should have scored with Placid and Shipperley linking up majestically on the right wing with Shipperley breaking the line and passing back to Placid.
The former Australian underage star looked to pin his ears back and go to the line but Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne chased him down and in a panic Placid's backwards pass went out of play.
In the shadow of half-time, Osborne's grubber kick almost went into the path of Jack Wilson for another try but it was tapped clear by the home side.
The only positive going into the second half was that the Rebels weren't further behind and on 47 minutes Jack Debreczeni kicked a penalty goal. Just before that play Placid went down with an injury and was replaced by rookie back Reece Hodge.
Another handling error in midfield saw the Highlanders break down the sideline through Thompson who chased down a Sopoaga kick and shinned it into goal before Jack Wilson caught up to the ball in-goal and touched it down, with the conversion seeing the visitors up 20-3 after 55 minutes.
On the hour the Rebels had a scrum just metres from the line and then repeated possession inside their advantage line. But they could get no joy and after attempting a move on the right side Debreczeni looked to move the ball outside only for the speedy Osborne to intercept his pass and then run down the sideline for another try. Sopoaga's sideline conversion made it 27-4.
Jordy Reid, McMahon and Mitch Inman continued to pressure the line and made some late breaks but the Highlanders defence held steady.
The Rebels play New South Wales Waratahs at Allianz Stadium next Sunday.