Penrith will turn to a fifth choice five-eighth to replace James Maloney but talismanic skipper Sam Burgess will lead the Rabbitohs against Melbourne in a mixed night at the judiciary for two of the NRL's biggest names.
Burgess's grade two charge for a high shot on Cronulla's Matt Moylan was downgraded on Tuesday night, resulting in a $1900 fine and no suspension for the big Brit.
Moylan has since been ruled out of action this week due to ongoing concussion effects suffered in the tackle, despite initially passing his HIA and returning to play last weekend.
Meanwhile Maloney's failed bid to overturn his one-game ban for tripping Bulldog Jeremy Marshall-King rules him out of Friday's critical clash with Cronulla.
The Panthers are left with fifth-string five-eighth option Sione Katoa or untried Dubbo product Matt Burton to partner Nathan Cleary in the halves, with Jarome Luai (eye injury), Wayde Egan (shoulder) and Tyrone May (stood down) all unavailable.
Burgess dodged suspension after his legal rep Nick Ghabar drew comparisons with previous grade one charges levelled against Brisbane's Matt Lodge and Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Sam Burgess placed on report for tackle on Moylan
NRL counsel Peter McGrath had described Moylan as "effectively a rag doll" the moment he was collected by Burgess due to the force of the tackle.
"He dropped the ball, his eyes closed. He lost all control," McGrath said.
But Lodge's shot on Parramatta's Peni Terepo last year – for which the Broncos prop escaped suspension – made for a particularly favourable example.
Ghabar contended that Lodge's swinging arm that collected Terepo's chin was "grossly careless" and "entirely unnecessary", yet still only worthy of a grade one charge.
"How can it be this particular tackle is being suggested to be twice as bad as the other tackles [shown]?" Ghabar asked.
After over an hour of evidence, former players Mal Cochrane, Dallas Johnston and Tony Puletua reduced Burgess's charge to grade one, allowing him to avoid what would have been the eighth suspension of his career.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett gave Burgess a public lashing after his shot on Moylan – which came in his first game back from a seven-week lay-off from shoulder surgery – but Burgess said he had no plans to temper his aggressive approach in defence.
"If you look at the incident tonight, I'm not intentionally trying to hurt anyone," Burgess said.
"Things can go wrong. In the case tonight, I'm actually just trying to make a tackle. It's not a loose play, I'm not swinging arms, I'm not intentionally trying to hit someone in the head.
"These things happen in sport and I take responsibility. There was a careless factor in terms of [the tackle]. But I don't think I'm a dirty player, I don't intentionally go out there to do that.
"Everyone's (got an) opinion, it's ok. I think it's good theatre, everyone's had a bit of fun over the last few days and we'll just get on with playing football now."
Earlier Maloney had cut a restless figure throughout proceedings, particularly when his hour-long hearing descended into semantics over the definition of the word 'grip'.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Panthers
Under NRL rules a player cannot be charged with tripping if they have a grip on a ball-carrier.
At one point judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew had the Oxford Dictionary up on his iPad, directing the judiciary panel to consider whether Maloney’s right hand on Marshall-King aligned with the definition of ‘taking and keeping a firm hold of something or grasping and holding tightly’.
While Maloney argued that he had a “pretty good grip” briefly on Marshall-King, McGrath dismissed that outright.
With just 10 minutes of deliberation the judiciary panel did likewise.
Maloney unsuccessfully contended throughout that he had no intention of tripping Marshall-King, and only had eyes to kick a loose ball that he had knocked on late in Penrith’s shock loss to Canterbury last weekend.
"He [Marshall-King] picked up the ball low where my foot was and my intention was to put it on the toe while nobody had the ball,” Maloney said.
“I’d already made the decision to kick the ball but couldn’t pull out ... once the leg goes out, I can’t pull it back.
“I’m no physics expert but I don’t think that’s possible.”
Maloney's absence could prove telling against his former Sharks teammates. The NSW five-eighth was superb during Penrith's recent seven-game winning streak, producing 11 try assists in the six victories he played in around the Origin period.
Last week's shock loss to the Bulldogs dropped Penrith back to ninth place, with Cronulla leapfrogging them into seventh ahead of Friday's clash.