We are halfway through the National Women's Rugby League Premiership and there were some huge results this weekend which saw some movement on the ladder. The ladder is also beginning to take shape as we get closer to the Finals.
The Newcastle Knights managed to just sneak past the Brisbane Broncos with a two point win in front of a big home crowd at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The Canberra Raiders made it four in a row with a 28-22 win over an improved Parramatta Eels side.
The Wests Tigers just fell short losing by four points to the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks made a big statement, defeating the North Queensland Cowboys 40-12.
The match of the round was more one-sided than I thought it would be, with the Sydney Roosters defeating the Gold Coast Titans 30-8 and really cementing their place at the top of the ladder.
Here are your Round 5 talking points.
Suspension and injury beginning to impact teams
With the NRLW season only nine weeks long, injuries can be devastating. Not only because, depending on the seriousness of the injury, a player can miss almost an entire season of footy, but also because of the depth in the women's game at the moment, when serious injuries happen squads don't quite have the depth to deal with it.
There is no better example of this than the Eels, who have looked far more composed since the return of Rachael Pearson. The Eels unfortunately only had the benefit of Elsie Albert's experience for 28 minutes in Round 4.
The harsh reality for the Eels is that they have struggled this year without their key players and will continue to be without Albert and also Kennedy Cherrington for an extended period.
They are not the only club challenged; the Titans have lost Jamie Chapman, Lauren Brown and Rilee Jorgensen to HIAs and in this weekend's game, Emily Bass sustained a shoulder injury. The Raiders will be without Emma Barnes after her jaw surgery, the Dragons may be without Bobbi Law for the rest of the season and the Broncos are still without Julia Robinson. The Sharks have also had to reshuffle their team several times due to injury, but proved how capable they are as a team with Emma Tonegato back in the halves and Jada Taylor returning to fullback.
Several players are also heading to the judiciary after this round including Niall Williams-Guthrie (Titans).
No doubt player availability will continue to play a key role as we get closer to finals.
Internationals making their mark
One of the benefits of the Rugby League World Cup in 2022 was that NRLW clubs had the chance to watch the elite players compete for their countries and it has certainly led to a greater contingent of overseas players join the competition.
There were some stand out performances by the internationals this weekend. Kiwi Ferns player, Mele Hufanga, scored her sixth try in just five games for the Brisbane Broncos and Georgia Hale made 38 tackles in the Titans loss to the Roosters.
Other players who have also impressed me in recent weeks include Abigail Roache who has scored four tries in four games for the Newcastle Knights, Francesca Goldthorp in the fullback position for the Cowboys and Zahara Temara who has proved to be the difference for the Raiders in several games.
As the NRLW continues to expand and as the season grows in length, my hope is that more international players will join the competition. This not only means that the Australian Jillaroos get to compete against their international counterparts on a regular basis, but it ensured the NRLW maintains its status as the best women's rugby league competition in the world.
-- There were 17,043 in attendance for the game between the Knights and the Broncos, making it one of the biggest ever NRLW crowds during the regular season.
-- Tamika Upton was the Knights best, running for 252 metres.
-- Jakiya Whitfeld continues to be a stand-out for the Wests Tigers, this week breaking through 11 tackles and running for 185 metres.
-- The Sharks scored 24 points in the first half; the most scored by an NRLW team in a first half.
-- The Cowboys are still searching for a first win in a home game this season.
Onto the Next
With Round 6 fast on approach, teams are running out of time to push for those top four positions. The Roosters, Knights and Raiders have some breathing room, each sitting on eight points, followed by the Titans on six points. The next five teams all sit on four points and will be fighting to challenge the Titans for the final top four position.
There are a couple of matches I am really looking forward to this round.
The Broncos take on the Raiders on Sunday; a Broncos win will see them leapfrog the Raiders on the ladder.
The Tigers will be keen to get back into the winners circle, but face a tough test coming up against competition leaders the Roosters.
The Eels are still searching for their first win of the season and may have an opportunity this week against the ninth placed Cowboys.