The Highlanders’ 43-37 win over the Rebels just enhance the Sharks’ chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
The Highlanders outscored the Rebels by six tries to four at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
After trailing 22-24 at the break, the Highlanders came from behind to record the victoru and secure the sixth place finish.
While the Rebels’ defeat has left the back door open for the Sharks to slip into the playoffs.
The Australian club looked to have the match sewn up when they led 34-23 with 17 minutes to play when the Highlanders clicked.
In the space of 12 minutes they scored three tries, two of them converted, to hit the front 43-34, with the Rebels coming back to earn a losing bonus point from a late Jack Debreczeni penalty.
“Hopefully the Jaguares will get over the Sharks,” Hodge said, adding the Rebels only had themselves to blame if they do miss the play-offs.
“We were up by 13 or 14 points at one stage and we can’t afford to slip against a team like the Highlanders. Hopefully, we get another chance next week. If not that’s the way it goes.”
Less than a year after the Rebels’ Super Rugby future was in doubt, during tense negotiations to trim the number of Australian sides in the competition, they have bounced back to win seven matches so far this year compared to one in 2017.
With a quarter-final at stake, the Rebels raced to a 17-3 lead inside the first quarter, as they pounced on the turnover ball to produce tries by Amanaki Mafi and Hodge who also landed a penalty.
The Highlanders, who were already assured of a quarter-final spot, opted to rest several All Blacks including Ben and Aaron Smith, and the newcomers were guilty of under-estimating the height of flyhalf Hodge.
Two of his tries came from charging down Highlander attempts to chip over his head.
The Highlanders did not get into the game until Rebels scrumhalf Michael Ruru was sent to the sin bin for foot-tripping Lima Sopoaga.
The home side struck back with tries by Waisake Naholo and Kayne Hammington with Sopoaga adding the extras to level at 17-all and when Hodge regained the lead for the Rebels with his second try, Tei Walden responded immediately to leave the Rebels ahead 24-22 at the turn.
Hodge continued to notch up the points at the start of the second half with a converted try and his second penalty before the Highlanders winning late burst which saw tries to Tevita Li, Greg Pleasants-Tate and Tom Franklin.
Man of the match: Rebels Amanaki Mafi made solid runs however on a few occasion the No.8 could have offload instead of running into a tackler. For the Highlanders Shannon Frizell work rate helped the host in terms of defence, the flank made 16 tackles. Despite being on the losing side Reece Hodge was in impeccable form for the Rebels and thus gets our nod
Tries: Naholo, Hammigton, Walden, Li, Pleasants-Tate, Franklin
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Mafi, Hodge 3
Cons: Hodge 3
Pens: Hodge 2, Debreczeni,
Yellow Card: Michael Ruru (Rebels, 22 – dangerous tackle)
Highlanders: 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seuili.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Matt Faddes, 23 Josh McKay.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English (captain), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Lopeti Timani.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)