Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has refused to completely rule out a last-minute call up for troubled centre Jamal Idris for Sunday's clash against the Warriors.
After taking a personal leave of absence back in May, Idris made a discreet return for the club in their NSW Cup win at North Sydney last week.
Cleary again named his strike weapon to appear in the reserve grade curtain-raiser in Auckland at 9.30am (AEST), but left the door open for a possible NRL return.
Asked whether Idris could join the first grade this weekend, Cleary said: "Not really. Look, it's something that we're monitoring each day as we go along. He'll definitely play in one of the grades this week but we don't want to rush him, that's for sure. It's more than just football we're talking here."
Idris officially took a break from rugby league four weeks ago after reportedly battling alcohol and depression issues. However the 23-year-old re-joined the rest of his teammates before last week's bye and is understood to be making progress.
"Jamal's coming along okay. I don't want to say too much about it. There's obviously a bit of a process going on there and he's working through it," Cleary said.
"He played his first game back in NSW Cup last week so he's just getting things rolling again. There's a few things that go with that, outside of football as well. But he's making good progress."
The 2014 surprise packets have sneaked their way to second spot on the ladder on the back of a five-game winning streak and a squad untroubled by the Origin period.
While Cleary says the team's senior players have ensured the side wasn't getting carried away with its position on the ladder, he believes many people aren't taking his team seriously.
"We've got some pretty handy leaders who've been around the traps and been through this thing before. Guys like Brent Kite, Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, they've been there and done it," he said.
"And [as for] the rest of the guys, there's not too much fanfare out there. They've been pretty low-key, so we're just going about our business. There's a bit of feeling around that we're over-achieving. We're just going out there doing our thing and trying to improve, really. That's what we're trying to do."
As for this week's opponents, Cleary described the road trip to New Zealand as one of the most difficult challenges on the NRL calendar, and pointed to the Warriors' makeover since coach Andrew McFadden took over in early April.
"I think any time the coach changes mid-season, there's going to be some things going on. But the last six weeks or so, I think they've been pretty consistent," Cleary said.
"Apart from maybe the second half in Perth – it's a long way from home so that's a tough trip for them – they've been pretty consistent. They've got a good roster, a lot of talent in the team. And it looks like they're playing pretty well, so it's as hard a game as you can get really, going over to play these guys. It'll be a good challenge."