Valentin Courrent registered the visitors’ only try of the game but it was Sale’s commitment in defence and their more adventurous style of football which proved decisive.
Leeds, still looking to appoint a first-team coach, had not beaten the Sharks in 10 attempts in the Premiership and this represented their best opportunity.
Giant South African prop Kees Lensing was handed his Tykes debut just six days after landing in Yorkshire while Sale were hit by a string of international call-ups including influential quartet Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson, Andrew Sheridan and Sebastien Chabal.
Leeds enjoyed the best of the early territorial battle but it was Sale, whose skipper Jason Robinson was celebrating the fifth anniversary of his cross-code switch from Wigan, who registered the first points. Full-back Daniel Larrechea booted a penalty after three minutes when referee Dave Pearson caught the Tykes’ defence offside, but it was to prove the visitors’ only points of the half.
Leeds led at the break after fly-half Gordon Ross levelled the scores with a well taken drop goal and then kicked a penalty 15 minutes later after a high tackle on Lensing. And the lead could have been more had Rob Vickerman not knocked on in the build up to Roland De Marigny’s disallowed try.
But the Sharks started the second half at a blistering pace, Epi Taione creating enough space for Courrent to scorch over for his first try of the campaign just five minutes after the restart.
Courrent and Larrechea added a drop goal each to move Sale further ahead and represent their dominance of possession more accurately. Another Larrechea penalty – after Leeds had been caught offside while gathering his wayward attempted drop goal – sealed the result and ensured that Philippe Saint-Andre’s side moved back to the top of the table.
Vickerman’s try heaped late pressure on Sale – heightened by the late dismissal of Lionel Faure for punching Justin Marshall and the sin-binning of Robert Todd – but it was not enough and the Tykes are now stranded at the foot of the table and facing an increasingly difficult task to avoid relegation.