The Chiefs chances of stealing the New Zealand conference have been extinguished.

A 28-24 loss to the Sharks in Durban on Sunday morning has left them 14 points adrift of the conference-leading Crusaders, who have four matches left to play.

A last second try to Solomon Alaimalo secured what may be a vital bonus point in their hunt for the playoffs, but they would need the Crusaders and Hurricanes to lose every one of their remaining matches to have a hope of winning the conference.

The Chiefs found themselves with the rare tag of the underdog in Durban, having lost four players to an All Blacks camp ahead of the match.

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Given what they have achieved all season with players unavailable, only a fool would have written them off against the Sharks heading into Sunday's game, and the hosts came out of the blocks with that in mind.

While a physical encounter was expected, the Sharks implemented a free-running brand of football early. The ball was moving through the hands, forcing the visitors to expend energy defending.

The home side found themselves with a 10-0 lead, all 10 points scored by No.10 Robert du Preez. It may have looked ominous, but the Chiefs weren't rattled.

Before the half was over, the visitors locked the scores at 10, with Tyler Ardron adding to his tally with another well-taken try.

Tied at the break, the Sharks continued to stretch the Chiefs and began to have more and more success in the attacking play as the match progressed.

In the end, the boot of du Preez proved to be the difference, with his work off the tee guiding the hosts through.

Sharks 28 (Robert du Preez, Lwazi Mvovo, Cameron Wright tries; Robert du Preez 2 cons, 3 pens)
Chiefs 24 (Tyler Ardron, Charlie Ngatai, Solomon Alaimalo tries; Marty McKenzie pen, 3 cons)
HT: 10-10