Connor Watson in action against the Panthers in Round 22.

Losing Mitchell Pearce before the game with a calf injury was always going to hurt the Roosters, but their coach Trent Robinson refused to blame the star halfback's absence for his side's 38-18 loss to the Panthers on Monday night. 

Instead, he said the Roosters' 37 missed tackles and inability to apply pressure at the end of sets allowed the opposition to dictate terms for the majority of the contest. 

"When you lose your halfback and the guy that guides you around the park, it's very difficult, but that doesn't [make you] miss tackles either," Robinson said.  

"The pressure that we couldn't apply to them ends up with a team like them having a bit of freedom in their play. 

"We couldn't put them in awkward positions through good kicks and good pressure, then they play with a bit more freedom, and that's what happened. The longer the game went, the more they played with freedom and the better they felt. 

"It ended up with points, so [Pearce not playing] is a start, but it's not a reason either for 38 points."

 

 
Robinson highlighted his side's inability to pin the Panthers deep in their own half with penetrating kicks as one of the most frustrating aspects of the 20-point loss, with the home side's back three able to make easy metres at the start of every set. 

The rookie halves pairing of Connor Watson and Ryan Matterson looked dangerous at times but were unable to sustain pressure for the 80 minutes. 

"It doesn't matter if you come here with good form or bad form, during periods of that game it was very disappointing," Robinson said. 

"I thought for most of the first half that the middle parts of the defence between tackles one and five, and the middle parts of our attack between one and five were good, and then the way we received the ball and the way we gave them the ball was not NRL standard. 

"I think they had hardly any pressure attack to do. The whole 80 minutes was front-foot attack, so the ball was in good positions for them for the whole game, and that's confidence for them and it ended up in missed tackles and tries eventually.

"It's hard when you take an experienced player out and then you ask those guys to do that job. It's really tough, and that's NRL. We've faced it a lot this year and it's really tough."

Pearce has been limited to just eight matches this season with suspension and injuries robbing him of a prolonged run in the No.7 jersey. 

Robinson confirmed that Monday's injury was a recurrence of the strain he picked up before the Round 13 win over the Wests Tigers. 

"He's had it for probably about two or three months. He missed three or four weeks maybe two months ago," he said.  

"Probably the wet track this week on the Wednesday sort of flared it up, but then he sort of aggravated it. He tried to get through Sunday but couldn't."

Asked if his halfback would be fit to take on the Cowboys on Sunday, Robinson joked he would take it upon himself to nurse him back to full health.  

"I'll be massaging him tonight," he said. 

Pearce's absence was further highlighted by the incredible performance of his opposite number, with Nathan Cleary stealing the show with a try and two assists. 

"He was exceptional. He led from the front, and as an 18-year-old that's pretty impressive," Robinson said. 

Added Roosters skipper Jake Friend: "For a young bloke coming in, he steered Penrith around really well. He's got a big future in the game."