Penrith assistant coach David Fairleigh pulls no punches in his critical assessment of the first half of the Panthers’ 2015 NRL season.

The former North Sydney hard-man admits the room for improvement is substantial; especially given recent results have seen the Panthers slip out of the top eight.

“We’re all doing our very best to work well together and maintain combinations,” Fairleigh told Panthers TV.

“(We’ve had) a couple of disappointing losses where we felt we should have won. Those close games, we’ve got to find a way to win them.”

The Penrith injury toll has been immense this season, with long-term injuries crippling a number of star players including Matt Moylan, Jamal Idris, Brent Kite and George Jennings.

Fairleigh concedes the constant changes to the Panthers’ starting line-up have undermined the players’ efforts, particularly in defence.

“Part of being a good defensive team is being able to trust each other and having an understanding of what people around you are doing under pressure,” he said.

“That trust has probably been eroded a little bit by nothing more than not having played with the person next to you in that position.”

However it’s not all doom and gloom in Penrith and Fairleigh singled out the development of 20-year-old outside back Waqa Blake as an example of the silver lining of the injury cloud.

“(Injuries) give people an opportunity and we’ve had a number of people this year that have been given an opportunity probably earlier than what they expected, but it’s a great way to learn,” Fairleigh said.

“Waqa Blake had a limited pre-season but has come in and done a tremendous job (as) a rookie. He’s learning on the run. He’s prepared to learn, he works hard and he cares about his game.

“There might be a few things in his game we’re working on to get better but…what he’s going through at the moment is going to hold him in good stead for the future.”