Desperate goal-line defence is the indicator of an improved willingness to work for each other according to Titans forward Mark Minichiello. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos
Perhaps it's true what they say; absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Forced to train for the opening two months of pre-season with a makeshift squad as their most senior and highly-regarded players represented various nations at the World Cup, the Titans players left behind vowed to be better.

And upon their return, the World Cup representatives noticed a change that has vaulted the Titans to the top of the table after six weeks of the 2014 Telstra Premiership.

When Gold Coast returned to training in November they did so without Greg Bird, Nate Myles, Mark Minichiello, David Mead, Luke Douglas and Brad Takairangi but in their absence the rest of the squad took on a greater sense of professionalism, both on and off the field.

Not only has it enabled them to turn narrow losses into nail-biting wins but it has forged a bond between teammates that is stronger than it has been for a number of years.

"Coming back from the World Cup myself, I came back into the group that had been training pretty much all pre-season and there was a very professional attitude towards everything," said veteran forward Mark Minichiello. "We were very strict in everything we needed to do both on and off the field and that can pay dividends come game-time.

"We're playing for each other a lot more this year. You can tell that when you're defending your own line and you're scrambling and you're making tackles for your mate, that's how you really tell whether you're playing for each other or not and we're definitely doing that better than we have.

"We're a really close-knit group and we're building towards something pretty special I hope. At the moment we're taking it week by week, keep winning and play consistent football and that feeling will keep growing the more you win and hopefully come finals time we'll be on a bit of a roll."

Minchiello insists that he hasn't looked at a newspaper to confirm that his side does hold such a lofty position while coach John Cartwright remains very wary of the quality teams currently on the outside of the top eight looking in.

"Nothing can change for us this week in how we prepare but it's a nice position to be in," Cartwright said of their 5-1 record and with a 10-day turnaround before Monday night's clash with the Panthers.

"It's way too early to look at the ladder because there are sides who have had easier runs than others and home games and away games and all that sort of stuff. You don't really get a good read on the competition probably until you get to the Origin period and it all changes again then. Sides are losing key players and that's a tough period in itself.

"You look at the sides that are not in the eight at the moment and you'd be very surprised if they're not there at the end of the year so that means someone in the eight is going to have to make way for them.

"It's way too early to look at the table in terms of where it's going to finish but you'd certainly rather be there than at the other end."

Coming off a short turnaround between bruising games against Melbourne and Brisbane that both weren't decided until the dying stages, Minichiello said the extra time to prepare for the Panthers was welcome, describing the 12-8 win over the Broncos as the fastest game of their season to date.

"That was the fastest game we've played this year for sure and it was pretty physical as well," said Minichiello. 

"We did a lot of work in the off-season to get ready for those sorts of games... It was a tough game, it could've gone either way and we were just lucky to come out on top.

"Winning those tight games, we probably lost them last year and this year we're finding a way to win and that's off the back of our defence. Defensively this year we've been pretty solid, only one mishap there, but other than that we're building off our defence and our attack's getting better.

"A 10-day break you can come in fresh and regroup and hopefully get another win after a 10-day turnaround.
"The Panthers are going really well, they've started the season pretty well and they've got strike all over the park so it's going to be tough going down there on Monday night."