Accurate kicking from Francois Steyn helped the Sharks subdue a spirited Highlanders fightback to secure a Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders.
Steyn kicked nine points as the Durban side quickly established a 10-point lead in the first half, but the Highlanders fought back to lead 17-13 at the interval.
The Sharks steadily reined in their New Zealand-based opponents after the break, yet Phil Burleigh's try set up a frantic finale before Steyn had the final word with two more penalties to secure a 31-27 victory.
The Sharks will face the Crusaders in Christchurch next weekend while the Waratahs and the Brumbies clash in Sydney.
Steyn's first points arrived in the third minute after Jarrad Hoeata was penalised for straying offside at a ruck and the Sharks were 10-0 up after Steyn converted Marcell Coetzee's try from a drive.
Lima Sopoaga's penalty got the Highlanders on the board after Jannie du Plessis was penalised for being offside, yet Steyn restored the 10-point gap when Shane Christie stopped a maul illegally.
The tide began to turn when Malakai Fekitoa ran on to a pass from Ben Smith to crash over, Sopoaga converting, and Kane Hames' converted try on 40 minutes meant the Highlanders led at half-time.
Sopoaga had kicked the extras on Hames' score and pushed the New Zealand side further ahead with a penalty in the 48th minute after Willem Alberts was penalised for side-entry at a ruck.
The Sharks were level six minutes later, however.
Bismarck du Plessis dived onto the loose ball when Elliot Dixon's clearance at the back of a scrum went forward, and Steyn converted to make it 20-20.
Try-scorer turned provider in the 56th minute, Bismark du Plessis drawing in a defender before offloading to Tonderai Chavhanga, who dotted down in the left-hand corner.
The five-point lead was a slender one, though, and it evaporated in the 63rd minute as Burleigh grabbed the Highlanders' third try after gathering a pass from Patrick Osborne. Sopoaga converted.
Both Bismarck du Plessis and Jean Deysel went close to crossing for the Sharks to snatch the lead back, but it was Steyn who won the day for the hosts.
The Sharks edged a one-point lead when Steyn punished them for illegal scrummaging in the 74th minute and, on the stroke of full-time, he added one last three-pointer as a sweetener after several defenders were caught offside.