A disappointing start to Super Rugby Aotearoa is in the rear-vision mirror for the Hurricanes.
While the Crusaders and Blues appear a cut or two above their Kiwi counterparts since lockdown, the improving Hurricanes are making a case for best of the rest after rallying from twin defeats to record successive victories.
The typically gritty Highlanders did their upmost to stick with the Hurricanes in Wellington but they struggled to contain powerful ball carries and left their surge too late after scoring their first points through a Mitchell Hunt penalty in the 51st minute.
It wasn't a perfect performance from the Hurricanes by any stretch. They will be frustrated with their finishing ability after creating, and bombing, a number of attacking chances through pushed passes or handling errors in contact.
No more was this evident than when Jordie Barrett, who produced telling touches at other moments, headed a difficult Kobus Van Wyk offload with the line open.
The Hurricanes controlled the vast majority of possession and territory, forcing the Highlanders to make 107 more tackles, but often failed to convert that pressure into points and they then had to cling on.
After leading 17-0 in the second half the Hurricanes were guilty of taking their foot off the throat by giving away a string of breakdown penalties and letting the Highlanders back into the match.
Aaron Smith's sneaky try down the blindside from an Ash Dixon pass off a rolling maul was a soft defensive error from the Hurricanes. That strike closed the gap to 17-8 which left the result in the balance in the final quarter.
Inside the final five minutes, during a dramatic late onslaught, the Highlanders hammered away at the Hurricanes line. Hunt slotted a late penalty to secure the losing bonus point and set up one final raid that saw the match stretch two and a half minutes into added time but a lineout steal from Vaea Fifita eventually banked victory for the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes captian TJ Perenara and dynamic hooker Asafo Aumua, equally influential with ball in hand and on defence in his best Super Rugby performance while starting in Dane Coles' absence, were standouts for the Hurricanes.
Perenara claimed one of three Hurricanes tries, and got one up on fellow All Blacks halfback Smith, by selling a huge dummy to stroll in and help his side settle into their sweet spot in first half. He also picked his runners well from the base and kicked accurately off both feet.
Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson and blindside Shannon Frizell were the best performers for the visitors.
Both teams had tries scrubbed out in the opening stages due to obstruction. First Smith was denied after a Hunt break with Dixon's innocuous nudge ruled to have impeded Du'Plessis Kirifi. Damaging Hurricanes second five-eighth Ngani Laumape then had his try ruled out for the same, albeit more obvious, infringement.
The Highlanders defence did well to scramble early with openside Dillon Hunt nabbing one crucial turnover near his own line and grounding the ball in the in-goal on another occasion but they could not hold on forever.
Led by powerful ball carries from Laumape and Aumua, the Hurricanes got a roll on.
Perenara struck with his dummy and a perfectly executed set move then sent Barrett through a gaping hole, his wide ball off his left hand giving South African wing van Wyk just enough space to dot down for the Hurricanes' second try.
But for a little more patience or accuracy with last pass options, the Hurricanes could easily have run in four first-half tries but they had to settle for a 12-0 halftime lead.
In the end that proved enough but they will need to be much more clinical if they are to repeat the dose and roll the Blues in Wellington next week.
The Highlanders, who drop to 1-3, next face a trip to Hamilton to face the winless, desperate Chiefs.
Hurricanes 17 (TJ Perenara, Kobus Van Wyk, Devan Flanders tries; Jordie Barrett con)
Highlanders 11 (Aaron Smith try, Mitchell Hunt 2 pens)