Gold Coast are heading to the NRLW finals after a professional 30-6 win against a lifeless Canberra at GIO Stadium.
The Raiders needed a 12-point win to steal their spot in the top four on Sunday but the Titans snuffed their chances with an early flurry before cruising to victory.
Gold Coast’s victory sets up next Sunday’s semi-finals, with Newcastle to host Brisbane while the Titans travel to the Sydney Roosters.
The Titans effectively put the race for the finals to bed in 11 minutes, landing a triple blow from which the Raiders were always unlikely to recover.
Prop Shannon Mato and fullback Evania Pelite each crossed easily before powerful centre Jaime Chapman broke the line and ran 40 metres to score, putting the Titans ahead 18-0 in the blink of an eye.
A slicing run from Gold Coast halfback Lauren Brown seemed to break the Canberra fight, before a barnstorming burst from second-rower Shaylee Bent made it 26-0 in the second half.
All-time leading NRLW try-scorer Madison Bartlett grabbed a consolation four-pointer for the Raiders on 66 minutes, before Sienna Lofipo closed the show for the Titans.
Gold Coast coach Karyn Murphy said it was her side’s best display of the season on the eve of finals.
“We set it up in the first half, we knew the Raiders would be really tough down here, they’ve been playing really well,” she said.
“We knew we had to come out fast and play our game and concentrate on that, which the girls have been doing all week.
“All we’ve done is focus on us, over the whole season, getting better week in and week out … last week was better again, but today I thought it was probably our most complete performance this year.”
Brown added a pair of assists to her try in a commanding display, with Pelite (162m, seven tackle busts) also in top form.
It was a sour ending to an otherwise impressive debut season for the Raiders, who finished 5-4 after turning in their worst performance of the year in their biggest game.
Earlier, Cronulla wrapped up their maiden campaign with the largest winning margin in NRLW history.
They smashed Parramatta 56-6 to break the 38-point mark set by the Sydney Roosters just last month.
Seven players crossed, with Ellie Johnston, Georgia Ravics and Annessa Biddle all nabbing doubles.
Biddle was unstoppable at times in a 273m, 15-tackle bust display, with hooker Quincy Dodd and Tayla Preston each putting on two try-assists.
Parramatta only had themselves to blame for the record defeat, turning in a shocking 54 per cent completion rate and missing 54 tackles.
The Sharks finish their NRLW campaign in sixth, while it wasn’t a season to remember for the Eels after last year’s grand final appearance, claiming the wooden spoon with just one win from nine outings.
In Saturday’s action, Isabelle Kelly has helped the Sydney Roosters lock in a home NRLW semi-final, starring as the Tricolours beat North Queensland 40-16 at Kogarah.
Missing several of their biggest names, the Roosters powered home with a 22-point second half to ensure a top-two finish on the ladder.
The Roosters expect to have Keeley Davis (hamstring) and Mille Boyle (shoulder) both back for the finals, while Jess Sergis is also a chance to return from a hand injury.
But there were more concerns on Saturday night, with winger Tyler Bentley suffering a leg injury and five-eighth Tarryn Aiken on report for a high tackle.
Bench forward Pani Hopoate is also at risk of a ban, after being sin-binned for a hip-drop tackle that left Jasmine Peters with a moon boot on her right foot.
With a finals spot already wrapped up and strength and conditioning coach Millicent Scutt the bench hooker, the Roosters had every right to be off on Saturday night.
But Kelly ensured they would not be.
After the Cowboys scored first through Keira Dibb, the Roosters hit back when Kelly streaked down the left edge and put Corban Baxter in under the posts.
Kelly went from provider to scorer moments later, when Otesa Pula pushed her way through the defence and sent her centre over.
The Roosters centre also put her side on the attack for a second-half try to Jayme Fressard, before throwing the last ball for a Jocelyn Kelleher four-pointer late.
The loss means North Queensland will likely finish their maiden season in ninth spot.
Southwell injury tarnishes Knights’ minor premiership party
Newcastle’s maiden minor premiership has come at a cost, with star halfback Jesse Southwell suffering a leg injury in the club’s 28-8 NRLW win over Wests Tigers.
The Knights sealed their status as the league’s comeback specialists on Thursday night at Leichhardt Oval, overcoming a halftime deficit to win for the fourth time this year.
The victory secured the Knights their first minor premiership in either the NRL or NRLW, with Newcastle two wins clear of the second-placed Roosters early in the final round.
But victory did not come without some concerns for the defending premiers.
Southwell limped from the field in the 22nd minute after sustaining a leg injury when setting up the Knights’ first try for Sheridan Gallagher eight minutes earlier.
The 18-year-old was removed from the field as a precaution. “She’s good. It just looks like it’s a cork,” coach Ronald Griffiths said.
“She will go for some precautionary scans tomorrow. We’ll see where we go from there.”
Gallagher was also hurt late in the match, limping with a knee injury after cleaning up a ball in her own in-goal.
The Knights winger remained on the ground for several minutes as knee checks were conducted, before medical staff cleared her to continue.
With Southwell off the field, the Knights threatened to lose their way in the first half as Rikeya Horne and Rebecca Pollard scored to give the Tigers an 8-6 lead at the break.
Despite missing star turns Kezie Apps, Sarah Togatuki and Botille Vette-Welsh, the Tigers looked set to pull off an almighty upset.
But just as they did against North Queensland, Brisbane and Canberra in recent weeks, the Knights were able to finish stronger.
The game swung early in the second half when Caitlan Johnston forced an error from the Tigers’ Brooke Talataina.
From the scrum, Tamika Upton put Abigail Roache through a hole to go 60 metres to score. The Tigers were never really back in the match.
Another try came to Roache after a Nita Maynard break, and the centre was in the action again when she made a 70-metre intercept from which Yasmin Clydsdale profited in the 57th minute.
The win means Newcastle will enter next week’s semi-final on a seven-game win streak, with a match against the fourth-placed finisher looming.
The Tigers will end their inaugural season no higher than eighth, after starting with two straight wins before several close defeats followed.
“(Newcastle) were extremely tough tonight, we just didn’t have the football ability to score points in the second half,” coach Brett Kimmorley said.