Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is taking consolation from the belief a top-two finish isn't as important as it would be in a normal NRL season, as his side faces a player shortage at the wrong end of the year.
Injuries to Brian To'o and Tyrone May compounded an already hefty casualty ward for the Panthers this week, joining co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo on the sidelines.
Suspended hooker Api Koroisau has one game to serve on his NRL suspension while forward leader James Fisher Harris is also unavailable indefinitely after returning to Sydney for the birth of his child.
It puts the Panthers in a precarious position in second on the NRL ladder ahead of Saturday's anticipated grand final rematch with Melbourne, and South Sydney snapping at their heels.
In a regular season the top-two sides get a home ground advantage in week one of the finals - a perk that most likely won't be available to any Sydney-based team in 2021.
It's all but certain teams will be based in Queensland for the rest of the season given the concerning COVID-19 outbreak in greater Sydney.
"It might not be as important as it was around home grounds, the big benefit with the top two getting a home final that first week of the finals," Cleary said on Friday.
"There's a lot of uncertainty but looking at the way Sydney is going, I can't imagine we'll be going back there in a hurry.
"You want to be going into the finals in good form so we'll be looking to try and do that, but we're not looking that far ahead."
Ex-Brisbane forward Tevita Pangai Junior joined the squad on the Sunshine Coast this week and will be available to play against the Sydney Roosters next Saturday.
Cleary said his challenge will be getting the best out of Pangai Junior in just five weeks before finals, but said he would not be a direct replacement up front for Fisher-Harris.
"He hasn't played for four or five weeks, so we'll just have to ease him into it and see where he's at," Cleary said.
"We've still got that to work out (how he will be used), so we'll just kind of work that out as we go along."
Meanwhile, the club is still locked in a complicated negotiations to try and get Fisher-Harris into the most ideal quarantine situation once he returns to Queensland.
Cleary had hoped for clearance to get him into a 14-day quarantine where he could at least train meaningfully to get Fisher-Harris back on the field as soon as possible.
"All I can say is that we're hoping in a couple of weeks once his quarantine starts and finishes that he's in some sort of shape to be able to return as quick as he can."
Australian Associated Press