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It wasn’t the ideal start for the reigning premiers, but early signs are good for the Penrith Panthers in the Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup.

The Panthers, who rose from fifth place to take the inaugural title last year, suffered a two-point loss at the hands of the Wests Tigers to kick off their 2018 campaign. In a tit-for-tat affair at Panthers Stadium, the home side outscored the Tigers four tries to three, but missed conversions resulted in a 20-18 score line. Captain Christian Pio knows there were positives to take out of the loss.

“The loss was a disappointing loss, even though it was just a two-point lead,” Pio tells “We did fight for the last bit but the game got a bit dirty out there (towards the end).

“I’m pleased with how good we held up, even though there’s always room for improvement. I’m proud of my team.”

The 2017 season saw a remarkable rise from the Panthers girls, who finished the regular season in fifth before surging into the decider, where they would beat the table-topping Bulldogs. Pio was a vital part in that side and for her second year, she already sees similarities.

“We were just like this in the beginning, big loss in the beginning but great comeback later on,” Pio says. “After that loss we learned how to work together – without that loss I don’t think we would’ve improved.

“(We just need) more communication with our team, attitude, making sure we have the right attitude and just bringing out the positives.”

With two extra teams and only nine rounds in the regular season, the Panthers will be looking to bounce back in Round 2, when they take on the Raiders in Belconnen from 11:30am on Saturday, 17 February.