Penrith's mid-season revival has hit a landmine after confirmation star Trent Merrin will miss up to eight weeks with a knee injury.
Scans on Monday revealed the former NSW State of Origin forward suffered a medial ligament tear during Friday's win over the Warriors in Auckland.
He was caught in an awkward tackle setting up a first half try for debutant Tyrone May.
Merrin's absence is a major blow to the finals ambitions of the ninth-placed Panthers, whose finals push has gathered steam after winning six of their past eight games.
The best possible prognosis for the No.13, who was averaging 130 metres and 29 tackles in 59 minutes so far this year, is a return for the side's final regular season match against Manly.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin is now expected to turn to the likes of Tim Browne, James Fisher-Harris or Leilani Latu to fill the gaping hole in his team's forwards rotation.
In positive news for the club, veteran Peter Wallace is on track to make an anticipated return from a knee injury that robbed him of a NSW Origin recall in game one.
Penrith take on Gold Coast, who are two points behind the Panthers in 12th spot, on Saturday.
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