Defending champions Waikato Chiefs confirmed a home semifinal tie when they scrambled to a 26-16 bonus-point win over a 14-man Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.
The win returned the Chiefs to the top of the table ahead of the Northern Bulls, who play the Western Stormers in the final match of the weekend.
While it was the result the Chiefs wanted, bouncing back after their 15-43 defeat to the Canterbury Crusaders last week, they will be disappointed with the way they were made to struggle against an understrength Blues.
As if the long flight home from South Africa during the week was not enough of a handicap for the Aucklanders, they were further hamstrung in the 22nd minute when Kane Barrett was red-carded as they trailed 3-8.
With their season already over, the Blues could have given up when their blindside flanker was dismissed for stomping.
Instead, they raised their passion and increased the pressure on the New Zealand Conference winners with a try by Charles Piutau to regain the lead 10-8.
With nothing but pride to play for, and to send captain Ali Williams off on a high note in his final game in New Zealand before heading to France to play for Toulon, the Blues ruffled the Chiefs with their intense pressure.
By halftime it was 13-13 after Hika Elliot scored the Chiefs' second try, following an early touchdown by Bundee Aki and Baden Kerr landed his second penalty for the Blues.
The Blues struck first in the second half with a third penalty from Kerr to open a 16-13 lead.
However, minutes later the fly-half went from hero to villain, yellow-carded for deliberately knocking the ball down, and the Chiefs made the most of their two-man advantage to hit the front again with a try by Ben Tameifuna.
Although the Chiefs enjoyed an overwhelming territory and possession advantage they let themselves down with frequent errors and were only able to score one more try when Tameifuna crashed over for his second after the Blues lost a defensive lineout.
The Chiefs were also not helped on the scoreboard by Aaron Cruden missing all four conversion attempts.
A Gareth Anscombe penalty on the stroke of fulltime concluded their scoring and ensured the Chiefs will have a week off before their semifinal match.
Blues - Try: Charles Piutau. Conversions: Baden Kerr. Penalties: Kerr (3).
Chiefs - Tries: Bundee Aki, Hikawera Elliott, Ben Tameifuna (2). Penalties: Aaron Cruden, Gareth Anscombe.