A Jed Holloway hat-trick wasn't enough to complete a miracle comeback in a 30-26 loss to the Highlanders.
Their first scoreless opening half in nearly seven years put the Waratahs on the back foot, as the Hurricanes racked up 30 unanswered points at Allianz Stadium.
Holloway's first, second and third Super Rugby tries spurred the Waratahs on to an incredible near-comeback, with NSW whittling the deficit to just four points in the final 10 minutes.
The Waratahs had their chances in the opening period, with Kurtley Beale missing two kickable penalties and the Waratahs unable to convert attacking pressure late in the half.
Boom Highlanders rookie Ryan Tongia split the Waratahs defence in the 11th minute for the Highlanders¹ first try and a Wycliff Palu fumble handed Liam Squire the second just inside the half hour.
A deft kick put the ball out of the Tahs¹ hands and into the path of Elliot Dixon just shy of half-time as the Kiwis streaked out to a 22-point lead at the break.
The home side came out re-energised in the second half and a dropped ball in the Highlanders¹ 22 stopped the Waratahs from capitalising on a Beale grubber early.
Dixon had his second in the 47th minute, beating out NSW winger Zac Guildford in a high ball contest and leaving the Waratahs in his dust as he loped away to extend the lead to 27-0 and a Lima Sopoaga drop goal looked to seal the result.
A late flurry of tries gave the Waratahs a consolation bonus point, with Holloway¹s hat-trick backed by a try on debut for prop Tom Robertson.
Former NRL flyer Reece Robinson was serviceable in his Super Rugby debut, replacing Matt Carraro and making 37 metres in just four runs.
The Waratahs have a nine-day turnaround for their next match against the Reds in Queensland.
WARATAHS 26 (Tries: Holloway 3, Robertson Cons: Beale 3 Pens)
HIGHLANDERS 30 (Tries Dixon 2, Tongia, Squire, Cons: Sopoaga 2 Pens: Sopoaga 1 Drop: Sopoaga 1)