Rob Burrow took on the extra responsibility as the below-strength champions had just enough quality to beat last season's much improved bottom side. Burrow scored two tries and helped to set up two more with his high kicks as Widnes could not quite find the defensive rigour to go with their undoubted flair.
With a depleted team – and an injury list headed by the rarely absent Kevin Sinfield, with a fractured thumb that could keep him out for six weeks – the Rhinos must have felt vulnerable. But Burrow, switched back to his natural position of scrum-half, bamboozled Widnes with a jinking run for the first try after five minutes and two minutes later he hoisted a kick which was retrieved by Jimmy Keinhorst to give Ben Jones-Bishop the chance to score in his first game since last year's Grand Final.
Widnes's ability to stay in touch hinged on their own half-back, Joe Mellor, whose first eye-catching contribution came when he supported Patrick Ah Van's break for the visitors' first try. Burrow trumped that when he exchanged passes with the latest Leeds starlet, Liam Sutcliffe, to nip in for his second touchdown, with Zak Hardaker, kicking in place of Sinfield, landing his third conversion.
Widnes looked like losing touch, but were level at half-time with two tries in two minutes. Mellor showed his pace for the first, going 80 metres after latching on to a loose ball. Another clean break through the middle of the Leeds defence, this time by Magraff Leuluai, set up Kevin Brown for what would have seemed, a few minutes earlier, an unlikely equaliser.
It was first blood to Widnes in the second half with Gareth Hock's pass to Rhys Hanbury creating the try that put them ahead for the first time.
That was wiped out when Jamie Jones-Buchanan took advantage of hesitant defence, but Leeds did not look convincing until Ryan Hall broke a six-match try drought from another Burrow kick. Two minutes later, he was in again and the points seemed safe, although Widnes had chances before Hanbury got them within range with a brilliant second and young Sutcliffe sewed it up for Leeds.
Leeds Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Keinhorst, Moon, Hall; Sutcliffe, Burrow; Kirke, McShane, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson, Singleton. Substitutes used Achurch, Moore, Baldwinson, Minns.
Widnes Hanbury; Owen, Isa, Marsh, Ah Van; Brown, Mellor; Pickersgill, Clarke, O'Carroll, Hock, Allen, Cahill. Substitutes used Winterstein, Kavanagh, Leuluai, White.
Referee P Bentham (Warrington).