Penrith will assess Jarome Luai’s best path to the NRL finals after Friday’s clash with the Warriors, with the returning five-eighth still a chance to be rested in round 25.
Luai will play his first match in close to a month this weekend, after getting final clearance on a knee injury sustained in round 19.
Already confirmed as minor premiers, Penrith will only be without suspended star Nathan Cleary for the Warriors clash ahead of his week-one finals return.
But the defending premiers are then expected to rest the majority of their big names against second-placed North Queensland in the final round of the regular season, with little to play for before the finals.
Luai could still be among those to sit out that Townsville trip.
There is a thought the five-eighth will be able to regain match fitness against the Warriors, before then being put on ice to ensure no further issues before finals.
“We’ll just see how he goes this week first,” coach Ivan Cleary said.
“We’ve got a couple of plans. Things can change very quickly in footy.
“We want to want him to play (this weekend). He’s missed four games. That type of injury, it’s better to get out there and get him going.
“He’s chomping at the bit too. Very keen to to get him out. There’s no way we would have played him if there was any risk (to the knee).”
Penrith will also welcome back a well-rested James Fisher-Harris from a two-week suspension against the Warriors, while Scott Sorensen is on track to overcome a calf complaint.
The Panthers played close to a full-strength team in the final round of last season while still pursuing the minor premiership, but rested three stars in the last round of 2020 with top spot already wrapped up.
Travel would also likely be a factor for Penrith officials when it comes to the last round in Townsville this year, given there would also be a six-day turnaround into the first final if it is on the Friday night.
“There are lots of factors and each year is different,” Cleary said.
“This year has been different to last year and situations are forever changing.
“Not just with the team itself, but with individual players and some of the things (like getting match time into bench players).
“All those factors have gone into it. We feel fortunate that we’re in a position to be able to think like this, but sometimes you can overthink it as well.”