Dunedin - The Highlanders demolished the Sharks 48-15 on Friday with a dominant seven-try performance that gives their play-off chances a huge boost.
Buoyed by the return of All Black trio Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Smith, the Highlanders' slick passing game saw them run away with the game in the second half.
The bonus-point victory took the New Zealanders' record to seven wins from 10 matches, consolidating their spot in the top six as a clutch of rivals breathe down their neck.
It was the fourth straight defeat for the Sharks, leaving their finals hopes hanging after the first match of a tough five-week New Zealand-Australia road trip.
"It's quite hard to see any positives at this stage," captain Marco Wentzel said.
"We have to look at the negatives first and fix the problems then take it from there. It's a tough tour, it doesn't get any easier."