Jimmy Keinhorst made the most of his late call-up by scoring a hat-trick of tries to help Leeds salvage a 20-11 victory over promoted Hull KR at a rain-soaked Elland Road.
The Betfred Super League champions will fly out to Australia on Friday for their World Club Challenge clash against Melbourne with a 100 per cent record from their opening two games but with their pride dented by a lively Rovers.
Indeed, it was a performance that had Jonny Bairstow, fresh from England’s cricket tour Down Under, scratching his head as he sat next to Rhinos coach Brian McDermott in the 16,149 crowd.
Keinhorst, who did not make the Rhinos’ Grand Final team and was left out of their opening match, only played because of an injury to team-mate Joel Moon which forced McDermott into a late reshuffle.
The home side were second best for long periods of the game to a side inspired by Super League debutant Chris Atkin, who formed an exciting half-back partnership with former Rhinos captain Danny McGuire, who also had his moments on his return to Leeds.
Between them, the half-backs forced four goal-line drop-outs in the first half alone as Leeds struggled for any cohesion in the difficult circumstances.
Yet it was from a counter-attack near their own 20-metre line that the visitors took the lead, second rower Maurice Blair freeing centre Andrew Heffernan and winger Ryan Shaw evading the last-ditch challenge of young full-back Jack Walker.
Shaw added the touchline conversion and Hull KR extended their lead three minutes later when full-back Adam Quinlan took Atkin’s delayed pass to cross for a second try.
Already lacking Moon, who had a leg injury, Leeds suffered further disruption when back rower Brett Delaney went off with concussion and prop Anthony Mullally sustained a dislocated finger.
There seemed no way back for the reigning champions but they suddenly found a spark to score two tries in four minutes and bring the scores level.
Prop Adam Cuthbertson charged onto a pass from the returning Stevie Ward to grab one and Keinhorst demonstrated his worth with a solo try, taking Cuthbertson’s pass and beating three men on his way to the line.
Richie Myler added one conversion as the scores were locked at 10-10 at the break but Atkin nudged Rovers back in front within two minutes of the restart with a neat drop goal.
Hull KR captain Shaun Lunt, a Grand Final winner with Leeds in 2012, was then held up over the line as the Rhinos lived dangerously.
Leeds claimed for a penalty try when hooker Matt Parcell was held back as he chased a loose ball and although it was turned down, the momentum had begun to turn.
And the Rhinos finally took the lead on 67 minutes when Keinhorst took Carl Ablett’s pass to cross for his second try and Myler kicked his second goal.
That was already a harsh scoreline for the visitors and Leeds piled on the agony eight minutes from the end when Ryan Hall gathered Myler’s high kick to work Keinhorst over for his third try.