IT IS strange sometimes how the unplanned team selection becomes such a catalyst for victory.
Leeds Rhinos fans will have been cheered by the sight of England scrum-half Luke Gale looking so sharp, incisive and controlling last night, with no sign of the injury issues that had plagued his last two seasons.
Likewise, Konrad Hurrell lived up to his ‘marquee’ billing by blasting defenders out of his way at every opportunity to help put his side on course for an emphatic win over bamboozled Hull KR.
Similarly, England Knights centre Harry Newman oozed class with his brace and Cameron Smith looked like a perfect No 13 as he weighed in with some lovely distribution and two tries of his own.
Yet, amid it all, it was the role of the player who was not even originally due to be in the matchday squad that perhaps proved most telling.
Luke Briscoe, the former Featherstone Rovers and Hunslet winger who at 25 is still yet to truly establish himself at Super League level, was thrust straight into the starting line-up and ended up proving a crucial figure in Leeds’ dominant win.
Rhys Martin pulled out late on due to the need for a minor operation so centre Liam Sutcliffe switched to second-row, Newman moved infield from the wing and Briscoe slotted in outside.
That right edge duly proved the hosts’ most potent weapon as they caused Rovers no end of problems, Briscoe hugely influential in the first half spell that set up this thrilling win that quickly banished memories of Rhinos’ opening day defeat against Hull FC.
He showed deft hands to set up their opener in the ninth minute, surging infield off Jack Walker’s pass and dummying to get through half a gap before finding Newman who scored.
Granted, the second try was initiated down the left as Hurrell left defenders clinging on with one bullocking run that saw Ash Handley and Walker play a one-two to get close.
However, when Handley was dragged down, Gale - buzzing around everywhere - aimed a perfect crossfield kick to the right where Briscoe did brilliantly to rise up in front of Kane Linnett and palm the ball down into Newman’s grasp for his second.
He was not finished, however; straight from the kick-off, he showed strength to bust through the Rovers defence to set his side on their way for back-to-back scores.
Admittedly, there was a touch of fortune to it, when Hurrell dabbed a kick in towards the post, both Will Maher and Matt Parcell failed to deal with the ricocheting ball, Smith benefitting.
Struggling at the restart became a theme for KR; at the next one, Smith’s wonderful pass at the line sent Gale racing clear and they ended up with a penalty which he duly converted.
Leeds, so crisp, purposeful and with so many options, did not make an unforced error until Matt Prior’s spill in the 33rd minute.
Rovers barely got near their line before Greg Minikin’s smart finish with just 96 seconds of the first half remaining to trail 20-4.
By the time they crossed again, though, Jordan Abdull scrambling over in the 65th minute, that score had stretched to 38-4.
In fairness, Rovers had endured their own issues; they had to make a late change moments before kick-off, Abdull - like Briscoe, not in the original 17 - thrust straight into the starting line-up at stand-off after Jamie Ellis was injured in the warm-up.
Given the mood Leeds were in, it is hard to argue Ellis would have made much difference.
Rovers were forced to defend their line manfully at the start of the second period and - just as they did in the first - initially they coped admirably, regularly holding Leeds out as the hosts probed away.
Eventually they splintered, though, with Walker doing enough to shake off one tackler and then use his pace to accelerate over.
Even when Briscoe made an error it turned to gold, with no little help from Newman who picked up his team-mate’s dropped kick and showed tremendous footwork and pace to weave his way upfield for Handley to score.
Rhinos’ last play options, so poor in the last two seasons, were unrecognisable here, Gale twice forcing drop-outs with his clever short kicking game and the hosts even scoring on the tackle when Robert Lui’s inside pass saw Walker supply Smith with his second.
Abdull replied but there was still time for Hurrell to get a deserved score before James Donaldson and Richie Myler rounded things off at the death.
Briscoe, though, will be delighted with his display and, with his older brother and former England winger Tom due back from ACL surgery next month, head coach Richard Agar certainly has plenty of options.
Leeds head to Salford Red Devils next Saturday while Rovers, who had Parcell looking sharp on his return from injury, host Huddersfield Giants on Friday.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker; L Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, Handley; Lui, Gale; Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Prior, Mellor, Sutcliffe, Smith. Substitutes: Myler, Cuthbertson, Oledzki, Donaldson.
Hull KR: Dagger; Minikin, Kenny-Dowall, Linnett, Crooks; Abdull, Brierely; Murray, Parcell, Maher, Livett, Hadley, Lawler. Substitutes: Mulhern, Trout, Storton, Minchella.
Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds)