The Reds have finished 2017 with just half a win more than 2016, going down to the Highlanders 40-17.
In the second-last regular season trans-Tasman clash, the Reds never really troubled their Kiwi opponents, keeping New Zealand’s perfect record intact against Australians this season.
Only the Brumbies can help Aussie teams avoid a 2017 duck now, with their match against the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon and a quarter-final against a yet-to-be-determined New Zealand team looming.
It took just two minutes for the Highlanders to shimmy off any sprinkling of rust, going side to side to give Waisake Naholo a five-pointer, despite the best efforts of Eto Nabuli at the line.
The Highlanders threatened to add to their points soon after, camped in their attacking zone, but some handling errors let Queensland off the hook.
That pressure valve was tightened again, as HIghlanders openside James Lentjes pushed off Karmichael Hunt to score their second in the ninth minute.
Queensland struggled to combat the Highlanders’ edge to edge attack, with the home side moving the ball far and fast with every opportunity.
Things began to look grim for the Reds when Karmichael Hunt’s night was ended within 15 minutes, with the fullback taken off with a leg injury.
The Reds clung on, though, putting pressure on the Highlanders’ defence as they finally began to build their share of possession, though that was snuffed out by penalties and dropped balls.
A misjudged pass fell just short of Caleb Timu and Izaaia Perese on the Reds’ edge, their most agonising of near-misses as they dominated possession but came away with no rewards.
George Smith’s decision to take a quick tap deep in the opening half gave Izack Rodda his first career try, with the rookie lock crashing over with two minutes left.
It was deja vu in the second half, with a Highlanders winger scoring a diving corner try two minutes in, though this time it was Tevita Li not Naholo who found the spoils.
Queensland’s set piece was where the Highlanders struck next, winning a penalty try in the 49th minute.
The Reds didn’t throw in the towel, though, with replacement hooker Alex Mafi scoring just five minutes later, off a maul, just keeping them with half a sniff of a comeback.
A 65th minute Ash Dixon score ended all chances of a Reds comeback, but Caleb Timu notched a late consolation try, collecting a super Izaia Perese offload, to top off a strong starting debut.
The result means the Reds finish 2017 with four wins from 17 games, after three wins and a draw in 2016.
The Highlanders will travel to face the Lions or the Crusaders in next week’s quarter-finals.
Tries: Naholo, Lentjes, Hammington, Li, penalty, Dixon
Cons: Sopoaga 4
Tries: Rodda, Mafi, Timu