Will Genia's 100th appearance for Queensland coincided with long-awaited joy for the Reds as the struggling Australian franchise damaged the Highlanders Super Rugby play-off prospects with a last-gasp 38-31 victory win at Suncorp Stadium last night.
Hoping - and expected - to bounce back from an agonising loss to the Crusaders in Dunedin in the previous round, the Highlanders instead squandered an opportunity to maintain pressure on the Crusaders and Chiefs despite fighting back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to draw level in the last minute through replacement halfback Fumiaki Tanaka.
Hayden Parker added the extras but the Reds strung together 18 phases as the siren sounded before Jake Schatz powered over by the posts - the culmination of an attack that spanned 55-metres after the Highlanders kicked away possession from the restart and backed their defence.
Unlike Quade Cooper and James Horwill - who received their commemorative cap amid a six-game losing streak - the Wallabies halfback savoured a win that sees the 2011 champions climb off the foot of the table.
Fittingly Genia, who played a role in two tries and dominated his battle with All Black Aaron Smith, also had the honour of taking an immaterial conversion that kick started wild celebrations.
"I just wanted to enjoy the occasion and go out there and have some fun, play with a smile on my face," he said, before coach Richard Graham praised his playmaker.
"I thought Willy demonstrated why he's been regarded as the best halfback in the world. The way he controlled the game and so forth around the ruck was very good," he said.
The Highlanders still provisionally improved to fourth with two bonus points but could rue another lost opportunity considering they face a tough finish to the regular season with games against the Chiefs, Waratahs and Crusaders.
Committed to attack, the Highlanders stressing a defensive line that missed six tackles in the opening five minutes - but the unfortunately they could not capitalise on that pressure as the second worst defence in the competition piled on 21 unanswered points.
Guilty of ignoring a potentially match-winning dropped goal against the Crusaders in Dunedin last Saturday, the Highlanders again played into the hands of their opponents with a strategy that was all risk, and initially no reward.
By halftime the Highlanders had turned over the ball 16 times, committed 10 handling errors and lost four lineout throws - a deficiency that saw All Black training squad member Liam Coltman replaced by Ged Robinson at halftime.
That set piece steadied but the Highlanders scrum - weakened by the loss of Ma'afu Fia and Joe Wheeler to concussion in the first half - was under pressure, particularly when a pushover try from Jake Schatz restored the Reds' 21-point buffer with 30 minutes remaining.
Richard Buckman bridged the gap when a Lima Sopoanga grubber ricocheted in the right wing's direction and the Highlanders should have made more inroads with 10 minutes remaining but a Ben Smith try was ruled out after television match official George Ayoub ruled Malakai Fekitoa obstructed Anthony Fainga'a.
Fekitoa, who was well contained on attack, clattered into Fainga'a and although the former Wallaby was not likely to have tackled Buckman had he not been hit, the impact counted against the All Black-in-waiting.
Had Smith's try been converted the Reds would have led 31-24 when Patrick Osborne scored an 80-metre intercept, potentially tying the game before reserve halfback Tanaka did so when justifying his 20 minute cameo.
Joseph thought Smith's try was legitimate but conceded decoy runners walked a fine line.
"The learning there for is I guess if you're going to be a decoy you have to be mindful of accidentally taking players out.
"The big fella there did his job too well I guess," he smiled, before conceding the damage had really been done earlier.
"In the first 50 (mins) we never really had an opportunity to score some points.
"I'm proud how we came back (from 21-0) but in the end there, if we got away with a draw we would have been fortunate."
Queensland Reds 38 (Jake Schatz 2, Curtis Browning, Rod Davies, Dom Shipperley, Schatz tries; Mike Harris pen 4 con; Will Genia con) Highlanders 31 (Lima Sopoanga, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Fumiaki Tanaka tries; Sopoanga 2 con; Hayden Parker pen 2 con). HT: 21-0
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