North Queensland coach Paul Green says in hindsight he would not have risked playing Valentine Holmes last round after the NRL star was ruled out for up to 10 weeks following ankle surgery.
Green last week rolled the dice and shifted Holmes from fullback to the wing because his marquee man still wasn't moving freely a fortnight after returning from a two-week ankle injury.
However, it backfired when Holmes hobbled off in the Cowboys' heavy loss to two-time defending premiers Sydney Roosters.
Holmes had an arthroscopy on his left ankle on Monday and after the probe revealed the syndesmosis was unstable he had the ligament surgically repaired.
The 24-year-old faces at least eight weeks on the sidelines.
Asked if he had any regrets about playing a less than fully fit Holmes last round, Green said on Tuesday: "In hindsight maybe it was better to go straight to the operation but he presented in fairly good condition.
"It was a bit of a strange one because he could hop and run.
"He presented pretty pain free and the medical staff thought they could at least give him a chance to rehab it and see how it went.
"But once he got into the game and got it caught in the wrong spot he couldn't do too much - we needed to get in there and find out exactly what was going on."
The Cowboys' depth will be tested in Sunday's clash with Penrith after Holmes was sidelined along with playmaker Scott Drinkwater, who suffered knee medial ligament damage in last week's thrashing from the Roosters.
Versatile backrower Mitch Dunn replaces Drinkwater at five-eighth.
But Green said the latest injury blow would be a test of character for his side which slumped to 12th following their fifth loss in six games.
"Everyone is disappointed (by the latest injuries). It probably galvanizes us a little bit more," he said.
"It's another challenge for us to overcome. We just need to knuckle down and get on with it."
Holmes and Drinkwater join captain Michael Morgan (shoulder) on the sidelines but Green was hopeful of welcoming back prop Jordan McLean (calf) and utility John Asiata (knee) against the Panthers.
Asiata has been sidelined for the past five weeks and hopes to get the green light for a return from his specialist on Thursday.
Asiata and McLean - who has not played for a fortnight - feature on an extended bench.
In other team news Justin O'Neill (head knock) returns to the wing while 19-year-old Kiwi flyer Daejarn Asi will make his NRL debut off the bench.
Australian Associated Press