Such was the quality both sides produced throughout it was difficult to believe it was the first game of the season.
Having made a fast start, the Highlanders scored first but then ran into a Chiefs response that totally dominated the middle two quarters of the game as second five-eighths Anton Lienert-Brown unleashed some exciting talent on his flanks in two-try scorer Etene Nanai-Seturo and Bailyn Sullivan.
Untried first five-eighths Orbyn Leger was another star turn for the Chiefs, confident as ever with his boot, fast in his acceleration, especially when running at the line and solid in defence. Something of a risk given his lack of previous exposure he demonstrated his innate skill.
The season had a controversial start when a try to Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman was ruled out when the TMO said the grounding wasn't clear as he initially landed on halfback Brad Weber's leg. The chance arose after left wing Tevita Li made ground through tackles on the flank, setting up a ruck where second five-eighths Thomas Umaga-Jensen made ground and fed Coltman towards the line.
However, the two scrums that followed did nothing to compensate for the southerners who found the Chiefs' defence quickly organised.
Unable to clear their own half, the Chiefs conceded too many penalties and when halfback Kayne Hammington tapped one of them in the 14th minute, just out from the line, he had support from Coltman in a drive for the line, and lock Pari Pari Parkinson was on hand to ensure there was no doubt this time around.
The chance to get out of their own territory with the restart saw the Chiefs hitting the line hard, especially Leger and flanker Lachlan Boshier. When Hammington twice within seconds had attempted clearing kicks charged down by centre Lienert-Brown and No.8 Tyler Ardron, it was from the five-metre scrum resulting from his chargedown, that the scrum screwed allowing Ardron to run from the scrum into a wide hole to score.
It was the Chiefs who took up occupancy of the Highlanders' territory and when a strong surge from a long lineout throw to lock Brodie Retallick ranging out the back saw lock Michael Allardice clear the ball to Lienert-Brown who passed on to hooker Nathan Harris who slipped the ball to wing Etene Nanai-Seturo who slid along the sideline to score.
Leger showed two deft kicking touches, the first a lob over the backline for Lienert-Brown to run onto and then in the resulting play he spied space on the left flank and put a perfect crosskick in for Nanai-Seturo to score his second try with ease.
Having been shut out for the middle two quarters of the game, the Highlanders regained their purpose and after Stephen Donald failed to find touch with a penalty the Highlanders pounced.
Ben Smith made ground and wasn't held in a tackle. Prop Tyrell Lomax picked up the ball charged ahead and had replacement flanker Shannon Frizell on hand to score.
More controversy followed with the manner of an attempted tackle by Sio Tomkinson on Retallick which ended with a clash between shoulder and head and the sending off the replacement midfielder while Donald landed the penalty to take the Chiefs to a 27-20 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
However, Ioane landed another penalty goal and the Highlanders built on their substitutes, especially Frizell and halfback Aaron Smith, who ducked around a ruck and scored what proved the match-winning try five minutes from the end.
Scorers: Chiefs 27 (Tyler Ardron, Angus Ta'avao, Etene Nanai-Seturo 2 tries; Brad Weber 2 con; Stephen Donald pen) Highlanders 30 (Pari Pari Parkinson, Shannon Frizell, Aaron Smith tries; Josh Ioane 3 con, 3 pen). HT: 19-10
FT | What a contest! The @Highlanders draw first blood in #SuperRugby 2019! ??