Panthers captain James Tamou made no excuses for a "very remorseful" Nathan Cleary, but empathised with the turmoil the halfback is experiencing after being reprimanded for breaking COVID-19 isolation rules.
Tamou said Cleary had been "quiet" since Penrith regrouped on Monday following the layoff due to the pandemic, saying the playmaker is trying to "put his head down and do his work".
Cleary has until Friday to respond to an amended NRL breach notice after flouting social distancing protocols by dancing with a group of women in a TikTok video filmed at his house on Anzac Day.
The NSW Origin star was initially fined $10,000 and banned for one match (60% of the fine and the match ban was suspended) when a picture of Cleary with the women appeared.
Tamou said the lapse in judgement was out of character for the 22-year-old, while he could relate to Cleary's situation having himself emerged stronger from a drink-driving offence in 2013.
Panthers head back to training
"Seeing the picture, my first thought was, 'That's not Nathan. Something's up'," Tamou said.
"I know Nathan - he's not that out there. He's more introverted than anything. That's not him. But ... he knows he's made a mistake and he's willing to cop it.
"I know exactly what he's going through. I've been through the same thing going through my career when I was a bit younger.
"It's bloody tough. You feel like you've let everyone down and you feel so small. I feel for him, but obviously he knows he's done wrong and he's just ready to get back to work."
When asked if the incident had become a distraction for the Panthers, who are undefeated after two rounds, winger Josh Mansour insisted: "Not at all."
"We laid the foundation of where we're at with Nathan and we've pretty much said everything we needed to say.
"We're pretty tight as a group and we're all really excited to get the season back going."
Penrith are one of six sides not to have tasted defeat in 2020, giving them an advantage over the rest of the field with the shortened season.
Despite beating premiers Sydney Roosters and then coming from behind to put the Dragons to the sword, the Panthers won't be getting ahead of themselves when the competition resumes.
"We haven't really brought the first two rounds up. We obviously haven't got much time, but we're sort of trying to restart and get all the fundamental things right," Tamou said.
"The shortened season has probably catapulted the teams who have won both games up a bit more and makes it a bit harder for those that haven't.
"But we can't let our guard down one bit. We've had a couple of good wins but that was six-odd weeks ago. Everyone will be coming back hungrier and we've got to do the same. We just want to elevate."