A second-half fightback from the Rebels has fallen just short in a 29-19 loss to the Hurricanes but coach Dave Wessels says he was proud of his side's resilience in the clash.
Trailing 26-0 at the break, after conceding four tries in 22 minutes, the Rebels tightened things up in the second half, underpinned by a dominant pack and a lopsided penalty count that finished 12-3 in the Rebels' favour.
Tries to Matt Philip, Billy Meakes and Reece Hodge narrowed the gap to just seven points but a Jordie Barrett penalty in the 75th minute sealed the win for the home side.
The defeat leaves the Rebels clinging to the Australian conference lead by just two points mere weeks after they enjoyed a two-game advantage on top of their Aussie rivals.
The Rebels had conceded two tries by the eight-minute mark and by the 23rd minute that tally had doubled as the Hurricanes took almost complete control of the encounter.
Rebels coach Wessels said he felt his side had learned from some previous second-half fadeouts this season but admitted the start was one of the worst they could have expected.
"The Hurricanes are a very good team and everything they tried worked for them, they got their tails up," he said.
"What's happened to us in previous games is we've really fallen away when we've lost momentum in the game so the really pleasing thing out of tonight was we actually found a way to fight out of that and regain control of the game.
"Unfortunately we didn't do that early enough but I think we've learned a lot from this week, it's teed us up for hopefully a good run at home."
Superstar flyhalf Beauden Barrett was the mastermind for his team in that opening 40, scoring a try and having a hand in another as well as steering the team’s attack superbly.
In contrast, Quade Cooper had a game to forget, missing a straightforward penalty shot late in the game and making some basic handling errors through the game.
A long-range Hodge penalty shot that fell just wide was the closest the Rebels found themselves to points in the opening 40 in what appeared an ominous start in front of a hostile Wellington crowd.
Though they showed some fight, the Hurricanes imply breached their defences far too easily, bouncing off Rebels defenders on their way to the line.
The Hurricanes burst through the Rebels’ defence in the opening minute but Melbourne steeled themselves to survive that early pressure.
Reece Hodge took a long-range penalty shot in the third minute as the Rebels looked to bank some early points but his kick fell just left.
Ngani Laumape powered through the Rebels’ line to score in the fifth minute and Beauden Barrett had his own three minutes later off a set piece move.
The Hurricanes had another potential try disallowed after a knock-on in the lead up but it didn’t take them much longer to cross for their third, with Wes Goosen showing his pace to score.
Where the Hurricanes converted even their half-chances, the Rebels cooked their own opportunities.
Hodge began to orchestrate an attacking march but Cooper fumbled the ball, caught looking one step ahead of the play, an event that was symptomatic of his night at Westpac Stadium.
Flanker Vaea Fifita made it four just past the 20-minute mark, after a Will Genia box kick was charged down, opening the door for the Hurricanes.
Melbourne dominated territory and possession early in the second half and used their scrum advantage to stay camped in their attacking zone.
A Hodge bust opened up the space for lock Matt Philip to score his own rampaging try in the 54th minute to finally put them on the board.
The Hurricanes’ mounting penalty count kept the Rebels in the right zone and the injection of Billy Meakes midway through the final stanza proved to be pivotal.
Meakes was heavily involved as soon as he came on the field and he finished off a slick attacking movement in the 65th minute to narrow the margin to just 12 points.
That score seemed to ignite the Rebels’ confidence and all of a sudden they had yet another try, turning the ball over off a scrum and quickly passing the ball out to Reece Hodge on the wing with no defender in sight.
A penalty with six minutes to go, just their second of the night, gave the younger Barrett the chance to slot three points and take away the Rebels' losing bonus point in the process.
Cooper had a chance to return the favour with a straightforward penalty attempt but missed the kick and the Rebels will return home without no competition points.
Tries: Laumape, B Barrett, Goosen, Fifita
Cons: B Barrett 3
Pens: J Barrett
Tries: Philip, Meakes, Hodge
Cons: Cooper 2