The Chiefs' shock 40-34 loss to the Reds in Brisbane could be the end of their hopes of the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title, coach Clayton McMillan concedes.
Due to the nature of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, which only pits New Zealand sides against Australian opposition, finals spots are going to be decided by the tightest of margins.
With 14 games played coming towards the end of round three, New Zealand sides have won 13 and lost just once, with nearly all of the Australian sides out of the running already.
The final will be held between the top two sides after all five regular-season rounds are completed.
After the Chiefs' loss, the Blues lead Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, ahead of the Hurricanes on points differential (+102 to +75) - both having won all three of their matches with a bonus point.
Five-time reigning Super Rugby champions the Crusaders are third on the ladder, one point back of the Blues and Hurricanes after failing to pick up a bonus point in their season-opening win over the Brumbies in Christchurch.
Saturday's dropped points see the Chiefs in fourth, four points behind the Crusaders, and coach McMillan says the defeat should be the end of any hopes of a finals appearance.
"I personally think that the loss tonight is terminal, we'll be gone," McMillan says.
"We're disappointed we won't be able to contest that final, barring a minor miracle.
"But we've got a really young squad and we need to learn the lessons from tonight and come back better. So, everything to play for."
The Highlanders could compound the Chiefs' woes, should they emerge as winners against the Rebels in Sydney later on Sunday.
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