Highlanders' hopes of making the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs now depend on beating the Reds at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday night.

That demand coincides with the Highlanders' most capped player, halfback Aaron Smith, making his last home appearance in his adopted home.

Smith has been the subject of attention all week, but he would give all that away if he could claim a win to keep those playoff hopes alive.

Coach Clarke Dermody is looking for Smith's fundamental competitiveness to light a spark for his side.

"Genuinely world-class players like that are super competitive. So, it's that competition he brings to our environment - that will to win. That's why he's got so much out of his frame for so long.

"Everyone talks about his professionalism. He plays big minutes in a key position, so he's managed to keep himself going for 183 games."

While their playing careers did not overlap, Dermody worked with Smith as a scrum coach.

"He's half a forward and half a back, so my dealings with him when I first came in as a coach were only around the scrum.

"When you're in an environment with someone for a long time, you get to know them a bit better and know them a bit more as a person.

"He's hugely energetic…and that's probably the strongest trait that comes through whenever he's around us.

"It's a big moment for us as a team, and it would be great to send him off on a good note."

Captain Billy Harmon said it was no accident Smith was one of the world's top players.

"His energy, the work he does outside of the game is pretty unmatched. It has been exciting to share the field with him for a few years."

The Highlanders have been boosted by Pari Pari Parkinson's return at lock. 

"He's just a big frame, so it's going to be good to get a target back out there at lineout time and around our scrum and maul.

His return has allowed Shannon Frizell to return to the blindside flank. Mitch Hunt will make the sixth start of his Highlanders' career at fullback.

They were looking at having another playmaker to back the first five-eighths, Freddie Burns.

"We were a bit disappointed with how we executed against the Rebels, and understanding how the Reds defend, and the pressure they put on, and how they defend in different parts of the pitch, we're trying to get another playmaker out there to make the most of that ball."

He said the Reds were among the most effective teams at capitalising on their entry into the opposition's 22m area. They used their big forwards to take advantage of their chances, which placed greater emphasis on the Highlanders' kicking game.