The Queensland Reds have defied simultaneous red and yellow cards to beat the NSW Waratahs 32-20 and stay second on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder.

The Reds' win came despite prop Dane Zander's 31st-minute red card for a high tackle and captain Tate McDermott's yellow soon after for a deliberate knock down.

The improved Waratahs, missing a host of top-line talent and coach Darren Coleman due to injuries and COVID-19, defended stoutly but couldn't capitalise on their 10-minute, two-man advantage.

Scores were just 3-3 during that time either side of halftime, the Reds' scrum dominant behind Taniela Tupou and Fraser McReight also influential.

The pair both scored tries as the Reds inched forward, while McDermott also celebrated his return from an ankle injury with a twisting, spinning run to the line.

Jock Campbell spent time on the wing, at fullback and scrumhalf and capped his game with a match-sealing intercept try, while No.15 Jordan Petaia was impressive.

Lalakai Foketi found space in the second half and Hugh Sinclair made back-to-back try saving tackles in the first half.

But in wet conditions, the Waratahs, steered by rookie halves Tane Edmed and try-scorer Jack Grant, were outpointed by Reds' No.10 James O'Connor and his fellow backs' kicking games.

Grant sprinted onto a loose ball to score the game's first try before the Reds' scrum power ensured they surged ahead and controlled the game.

A Tom Horton try in the 77th minute won back the bonus point for the Waratahs.

It sets up a top-of-table clash for the Reds at home against the Brumbies next Saturday, while Wallabies captain Michael Hooper could make his comeback for NSW against the Fijian Drua.

QUEENSLAND REDS 32 (Tries: McDermott, Tupou, McReight, Campbell, Cons: O'Connor 2, Henry, Pens: O'Connor 2) NSW Waratahs 20 (Tries: Grant, Horton, Cons: Harrison, Edmed, Pens: Harrison, Edmed)

QUEENSLAND REDS: 15 Jordan Petaia, 14 Jock Campbell, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Josh Flook, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Tate McDermott (co-c), 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Seru Uru, 5 Angus Blyth, 4 Ryan Smith, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Josh Nasser, 1 Dane Zander

Replacements: 16 Matt Faessler, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Feao Fotuaika, 19 Connor Vest, 20 Liam Wright (co-c), 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Lawson Creighton, 23 Isaac Henry

WARATAHS: 15 Will Harrison, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Tane Edmed, 9 Jack Grant, 8 Will Harris, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Charlie Gamble, 5 Geoff Cridge, 4 Hugh Sinclair, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Tetera Faulkner

Reserves: 16 Tom Horton, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Archer Holz, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Langi Gleeson, 21 Teddy Wilson, 22 Dylan Pietsch, 23 Triston Reilly