Carl Fearns touched down with six minutes remaining to complete a remarkable second-half fightback from Sale and deny bottom club Leeds a first-ever win over their northern foes.
Leeds have been widely tipped to go straight back down but they are acclimatising to the demands of the Guinness Premiership and thoroughly outplayed Sale in the opening period.
Two converted tries from Lee Blackett and Scott Barrow gave the Yorkshiremen a deserved 14-3 interval advantage and put them on course for a second successive Guinness Premiership victory.
Fly-half Ceiron Thomas added a penalty to extend their lead shortly after the restart but Sale eventually woke up and tries from Ben Cohen and Richard Wigglesworth had them level just before replacement Fearns, 20, claimed the winning score in the 74th minute.
Tensions simmered throughout the match but Leeds showed far greater desire in the first half and Blackett’s third-minute try set the tone for the opening 40 minutes.
After a fine kick into the right corner from Barrow, Leeds won the line-out and a neat short offload from former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall sent Blackett darting over the whitewash. Thomas defied the blustery conditions to land the conversion and Leeds had a platform on which to build.
The magnitude of the game was clearly not lost on either set of players and the sight of rival captains Dean Schofield and Marco Wentzel trading punches with each other in the eighth minute said everything.
The brawl quickly escalated as two more players joined in to throw a few digs at each other but eyebrows were raised when all four players escaped punishment. Referee Chris White simply lectured Schofield and Wentzel and allowed play to continue.
The incident was indicative of the desire and commitment on display and Sale got themselves off the mark in the 16th minute with a fine long-range penalty from Charlie Hodgson.
In the 23rd minute, Sale number eight Sisa Koyamaibole’s reckless high tackle on Leeds playmaker Thomas earned him 10 minutes in the sinbin. Thomas could not convert the resultant penalty but Leeds continued to look far brighter than Sale, who showed next to nothing as an attacking force in the first half.
Hodgson missed a penalty from distance but the momentum remained largely with Leeds and they claimed their second try on the stroke of half-time.
Thomas’ fine long offload found Barrow advancing at pace in the right channel and he evaded a couple of flimsy challenges to charge over the line. Thomas added the conversion to give a thoroughly deserved 14-3 advantage at the break and then landed another three-pointer six minutes after the restart.
Tempers flared again soon after when Sale hooker Marc Jones and Leeds flanker Calum Clark were shown yellow cards for fighting with each other and Hodgson then missed a routine penalty. However, the Sale playmaker was prominent in a move which stretched Leeds’ defence on he hour and culminated in Cohen touching down for a try which Hodgson converted.
Six minutes later, Sale were level when Wigglesworth waltzed clear and Hodgson converted to tie the scores at 17-17 before Fearns burrow his way over from a scrum and Hodgson again added extras to give Sale a fine victory.