Penrith won't be tempted into rushing Nathan Cleary back from a shoulder injury as they face a serious player shortage for Saturday's blockbuster against Melbourne.
Cleary will miss Saturday night's top-of-the table battle at Suncorp Stadium, with the winner of the grand final rematch to take a monumental step towards the minor premiership.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said on Saturday night his son was still tracking well on return from the shoulder blow, but no timeline was yet set for his return.
Regardless, the star halfback won't be alone on the sidelines next weekend.
Api Koroisau still has one game to serve on his two-match ban for a COVID breach during State of Origin camp.
Key forward James Fisher-Harris was also due to return to Sydney on Sunday for the birth of his child, and when he does return to Queensland he will need to spend two weeks in quarantine.
Isaah Yeo could also be under an injury cloud after being knocked out in the Panthers' win over Brisbane, albeit after initial positive news on his concussion.
But despite all that, all eyes will remain on Nathan Cleary's recovery after he last played in State of Origin II on June 27.
"We're certainly not going to rush him in because other players are out," Ivan said.
"They're just going to keep ticking these ticking the boxes and his rehab and working away which he's doing. He looks pretty good.
"When he's ready, we'll make that call but we haven't really put a time limit on it yet. But when he's ready we'll go."
Reminded that the No.7 would be a handy returnee against Melbourne, Cleary responded: "Of course he would.
"But he would be more handy at the end of the season. We've just got to be smart about it."
Meanwhile, Penrith mid-season recruit Tevita Pangai will not arrive in time for the Storm clash. Instead, he's set to face the Sydney Roosters in a fortnight in the first game of his three-month deal.
Australian Associated Press