NRLW Round 7: Do the old teams have an advantage?

With just two rounds of the regular season to go, there are now just six teams who can finish in the top four for the National Women's Rugby League Premiership.

With a 46-12 win over the Parramatta Eels, the Sydney Roosters retain their spot at the top of the ladder.

The Newcastle Knights held off the Canberra Raiders, beating them 20-12. The Knights remain in second place on the ladder and the loss saw the Raiders drop to fifth, but still on equal points with the fourth-placed Brisbane Broncos.

The Broncos, with their win over the Cronulla Sharks are now in the top four for the first time this season and with a big win over the North Queensland Cowboys, the St George Illawarra Dragons are still able to finish in the top four, depending on their form over the next two weeks.

Here are your Round 7 talking points.

What sort of advantage do the existing teams have?

Currently the NRLW top four is made up of the Roosters, Knights, Titans and Broncos.

The highest ranked expansion team is the Raiders, who currently sit in fifth, with all of the other expansion teams sitting on four points this season.

It suggests that no matter the depth of talent, or how many of the players have played together through pathways, that each of the expansion clubs goes through a learning process in their first year. No matter how committed to women's rugby league these teams are, there are no doubt lessons learnt throughout this initial season for them all and unexpected challenges which have arisen.

Most of the expansion teams will already have one eye on next year, with the Raiders the only team still left in the hunt for the finals.

Fortunately, a team like the Knights has demonstrated that no matter how hard that first season, there is an opportunity to grow in the next year. The Knights went from wooden spooners in the 2021 season, to Premiers in 2022 and look capable of another Grand Final berth in 2023.

Shannon Mato continues her brilliant season

Whilst there has been plenty of focus on the exceptional form of the Roosters and the Knights, the Titans have been my most improved team for the year.

What I love the most about this Titans team is how well balanced they are and they truly depend on so many members of their squad to get them across the line.

Lauren Brown has been outstanding with the boot and has helped the Titans win two games with two field goals.

Georgia Hale is outstanding, week in week out. This week she made 49 tackles and did not miss any.

But the Titans forward pack continues to shine. Shannon Mato ran for 286 metres in her player-of-the-match performance and had more post contact metres than almost any Tigers players running metres. Mato is the engine room of the Titans forward pack and is certainly taking the lead from the front.

Ali Brigginshaw plays on even with a broken nose

In the most important game of the round, with a win over the Sharks, the Broncos now sit in the top four.

Whilst several players for the Broncos were key, including Gayle Broughton who scored a double.

But most impressive was all was Ali Brigginshaw who played despite breaking her nose last week. The Broncos will no doubt be grateful that Brigginshaw didn't get a whack to the face and will be able to play next week.

Quick Hits

-- The Dragons finals hopes remain alive and they sit just two points out of the eight. Their 48 points was their highest number of points ever and equal highest in NRLW history.

-- Mia Wood has played just two NRLW games and has already scored four tries.

-- Defence was a concern for the Wests Tigers this week, who missed 48 tackles in their loss to the Titans.

-- In a tough day for the Tigers, it was exciting to see Brooke Talataina make her debut in the halves.

-- Mackenzie Weale's season may be over, as she is facing a 2-3 match ban for an alleged hip from on Alexis Tauaneai. The Cowboys cannot make the finals, so depending on the length of the ban, this could follow Weale into season 2024.

-- Jesse Southwell conceded a 44th minute penalty for taking too long to take a goal line drop out.

-- This was the Raiders first loss at home for the season.

Onto the Next

Round 8 beings with a local derby, with the Cronulla Sharks playing the St George Illawarra Dragons at 7.45pm on Thursday night. With no NRLM game on Thursday night, due to the finals kicking off, hopefully that gives the women's game a big audience.

On Saturday afternoon there is a top of the table clash to look forward to between the Knights and the Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium, no doubt in front of a packed house.

The Eels are still hunting for their second win of the season but have another challenging game ahead, facing the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium.