Penrith may have fallen behind Melbourne in the minor premiership race but last year's grand finalists aren't as concerned with their ladder finish this season according to centre Stephen Crichton.
The Panthers can't fall any lower than third on the Telstra Premiership ladder with four rounds remaining after beating the Roosters last week in a performance that got them back on track after a heavy defeat to the Storm.
Matt Burton's epic performance against the Tricolours has eased pressure on coach Ivan Cleary to rush back son Nathan before the finals given the side's assured ladder position.
Penrith are likely to welcome back Cleary, James Fisher-Harris and Tevita-Pangai jnr before the finals while Brian To'o and Tyrone May are others on the injured list set to be available next month.
It's a different predicament to last year's preparations before the finals with Ivan Cleary enjoying a much healthier roster to work with and considered the team to beat in the competition.
Using footy to break down barriers
With home ground advantage unlikely to apply in the finals this season given all teams remain based in Queensland, the Panthers can afford to take their time in bringing players back into the fold.
"That's definitely the goal to bring the boys back one by one and get a full team back before the finals and get a groove playing off each other again," Crichton said.
"The coach has heaps of confidence in the players we have right now. We're definitely not rushing back our injured players.
"He talks to us every week about putting our best foot forward until those guys get back. You use last year as a big experience for the finals. You've got to finish the year strong."
Cleary's return to the side is easily their biggest challenge given the delicacy around a shoulder injury that will require surgery at season's end.
Cleary was listed in the reserves last week and has joined the team for field sessions in recent weeks but remains limited in contact training.
Crichton believed Cleary was more than capable of coming back into the side and making an impact with limited time before playing in sudden death games.
"He's really professional, it's up to his confidence and the coach's decision as to when he comes back," Crichton said.
"That comes down to a coach's decision and the way Nathan handles it.
"That's something that the physios and everyone at Penrith really look after.
"They want the player's mental state all good. If they're not comfortable with doing tackles at training they won't be comfortable on the field.
"He's got a few contact sessions coming up and you just want to get him ready mentally."