Carlos Tuimavave will have the unenviable task of steadying the ship at the back for the Warriors on Sunday, with the rookie back named to replace Kevin Locke at fullback.
Locke's injury-ravaged season came to an end 16 minutes into Saturday night's thrashing in Townsville when he suffered a high ankle sprain.
A similar ankle injury has also accounted for regular captain Simon Mannering, who misses his third match after limping off late against Newcastle in round 21. With prop Ben Matulino out for the season with a pectoral injury, the Warriors are without their captain, star fullback and best prop - hardly an ideal scenario for a team riding a five-match losing streak that has taken them from finals contender to an outside shot at the wooden spoon.
With the team having shipped 97 points in consecutive defeats by the Sharks and Cowboys, Tuimavave can expect to see plenty of Panthers loping in his direction on Sunday.
"There weren't many positives out of the North Queensland game but Carlos was certainly one of them," Warriors coach Brian McClennan said.
One of the club's promising junior prospects, Tuimavave marked his second NRL appearance by scoring his first try, making 125 metres from 14 runs. A week earlier he enjoyed a mixed debut against the Sharks in a Warriors side that was embarrassed 45-4 at home.
"He stepped up really well when he came on after Jimmy [Maloney] was injured against Cronulla and he answered the call again against the Cowboys at a difficult time," McClennan said. "We've been really pleased with the way Carlos has gone."
Given the recent efforts of his injury-shredded squad, it is no surprise McClennan is gratefully accepting minor mercies.
He no doubt noted with some relief that dangerous Panthers centre Michael Jennings will miss the trip to Auckland after accepting a one-week suspension for a hit on Raiders player Josh McCrone as he attempted a kick. Jennings also copped a charge for a high tackle in a separate incident, but is suspended for just the one match.
A win for Ivan Cleary's Panthers would see them close to within two points of the Warriors as they look to escape a struggle with the Eels for the dreaded wooden spoon. The crumbs on offer for a Warriors side that would have had visions of finals football this season are small - win and they will at least avoid finishing last.
Wing Manu Vatuvei will captain the side for the fourth time in what will be another milestone match. Against the Cowboys he became the first Warrior to reach the 100-try mark in the NRL, doing so in 149 games.
Loose forward Elijah Taylor, who missed the game in Townsville after returning home following the sudden death of his father, returns to the side. Taylor will start in the No13 jersey, with Sebastine Ikahihifo on a five-man bench alongside Micheal Luck, Russell Packer, Steve Rapira and Pita Godinet.
Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm Sunday
Manu Vatuvei (c)
Warriors: Russell Packer, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Micheal Luck, Steve Rapira, Pita Godinet.
Panthers: Dayne Weston, Nigel Plum, Danny Galea, Mitch Achurch.