Sale survived an early scare to claim their fourth successive win and leave spirited Leeds rock-bottom of the Guinness Premiership in front of Headingley’s biggest crowd of the season.
Leeds, who have struggled desperately since returning to the top flight, belied their lowly status to dominate the opening quarter and establish a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes.
The Yorkshiremen’s early dominance was fashioned on an aggressive pack, obstinate defending and a remarkable work-rate.
A converted try from prop Tommy McGee in the seventh minute and a penalty from full-back Leigh Hinton were the least they deserved for their superiority.
That it took Sale until the 26th minute to register their first points said much for Leeds’ early excellence.
But as the majority of a 11,116 crowd scented Leeds’ first-ever victory against Sale in 12 attempts, the visitors woke up and remembered they could actually perform.
Fly-half Charlie Hodgson converted the first of Lee Thomas’ two tries on the stroke of half-time to add to two earlier penalties and give the Sharks a 13-10 interval advantage.
Thomas added his second on the hour mark and despite Tom Biggs replying for Leeds in the 65th minute, Sale hit back again when centre Chris Mayor and wing Oriol Ripol crossed the line to ensure Biggs’ late second meant little.
Defeats leaves Leeds precariously placed at the foot of the Premiership and seemingly in a straight fight with Worcester to avoid the drop.
Despite their desperate struggles in the first half of the season, Leeds’ spirit has remained firmly intact.
Their dominance in the opening quarter was proof enough, with Leeds’ forwards more than willing to mix it with the likes of France No 8 Sebastien Chabal and skipper Jason White.
Hinton missed an early penalty but in the seventh minute Leeds fashioned a try for McGee when influential fly-half James Brooks chipped a delightful grubber kick behind Sale’s defence. McGee collected possession and sauntered over the line for his his first try in Leeds colours.
Hinton added the extras and Leeds’ determination was epitomised in the 10th minute when Brooks sprinted 20 metres to halt Sale full-back Julien Laharrague as he threatened to break clear down the right flank.
Two minutes later another Hinton penalty increased Leeds’ lead but the hosts were dealt a blow in the 15th minute when flanker Rhys Oakley was forced off through injury.
Sale gradually began to find their touch and Hodgson’s penalty got them off the mark in the 26th minute.
He added another 10 minutes later and then orchestrated a bewildering move which stretched Leeds out wide on the left and culminated in Thomas grounding in the corner.
Hodgson converted to give Sale a 13-10 lead going to the break but faltered with a penalty 10 minutes after the restart.
Sale, who were missing talismanic Kiwi centre Luke McAlister through injury, introduced Andrew Sheridan and Sebastien Bruno in the 51st minute.
Their arrival gave the visitors added beef up front and, after Thomas missed a penalty from distance in the 59th minute, he atoned almost immediately by collecting Ripol’s pass and scuttling over in the left corner to claim his second try which he also converted.
Five minutes later, Leeds had hope when wing Biggs scampered clear but it did not last long as Mayor soon claimed Sale’s third try which Thomas converted.
There was still time for Ripol to burst through a gaping hole in Leeds’ defence and claim a try which Laharrague converted.
That ensured Biggs’ late second try, which Hinton failed to convert, was nothing more than consolation.