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Newcastle halfback Mitchell Pearce.

Newcastle co-captain Mitchell Pearce says it has been a frustrating year not being able to build a solid combination in the halves.

Coach Nathan Brown had elected Connor Watson as the first choice five-eighth in the pre-season, but Watson has had several stints on the sideline through injury, bringing Jack Cogger and Brock Lamb into the side – while Pearce himself was out for three months with a serious pectoral injury.

This week he will likely partner young star Kalyn Ponga against the Panthers, with the regular fullback expected to play five-eighth to lighten his running load with an ankle injury.

"It's been challenging over the past month or so, or most of the season, for myself not being able to build combinations and Connor and Kalyn haven't trained too much with their injuries," Pearce said.

"I have got no doubt we will connect well, it's just a matter of, as a whole team, whether we can do the whole cycle well and that will give us opportunities.

"There's no doubt the role he (Ponga) plays, he's a ball player, so there are some fullbacks who are runners and support players who cannot play No.6, Ponga can play No.6, he's playing that [on Saturday].

Panthers v Knights - Round 23

"You have to keep evolving your structures, and we weren't great last week so we have got to evolve in attack and I think Nick Meaney gives us some speed and ad-lib footy from the back."

With the Panthers one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the Telstra Premiership, Pearce knows Newcastle must improve from last week.

While the Knights only conceded 20 points against the Warriors in New Zealand, the halfback says the defensive workload really took it out of the players.

"We leaked a lot of metres in defence, which takes the juice out of your attack as well," he said.

"We were struggling to get on the front foot with the power game, so there's no doubt we were very one-out last week and left Danny (Levi) stranded at dummy half."

The game will be a chance for Pearce – a former New South Wales State of Origin halfback – to come up against the current Blues No.7 in Nathan Cleary.

While senior Penrith playmaker and Pearce's former Roosters halves partner James Maloney will miss the match with a knee injury, Pearce said the Knights cannot become complacent.

"He's a great player and had a good season, but he has looked fatigued and playing with injury the past few weeks," Pearce said.

"We've got to take the opportunity when he is out, but they have a young half (Tyrone May) who last time he played was their best player – so we can't take them lightly.

"I am always motivated because I haven't played many games this year – it's been a kick in the guts for me not playing much this year to be honest.

"I am enjoying every chance that I am getting out there and it will be great to come up against a quality player in Nathan Cleary."

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