A tense northern scrap never offered much in the way of champagne rugby, but that will of no concern to Dean Richards and his men.
A local finance company had chosen Friday the 13th as the date on which to announce their new naming rights on the fledgling venue, which will now be known as the AJ Bell Stadium. Also home to rugby league side Salford Reds, Sale will be hoping for a better return than the bottom-of-the-table finish of their landlords at the end of a torturous Super League season.
The Sharks’ opening-day triumph at Gloucester had certainly raised expectations, and in the shadow of the M60 they found themselves in the fast lane from the off.
Early line-out and mauling pressure earned Nick Macleod a second-minute pop at goal which rebounded out off the left post, but the fly-half made amends shortly after as his side’s dominance of both territory and possession was rewarded with a penalty from just inside the 22.
That was duly slotted, and it seemed to awaken a sluggish Newcastle as returning captain Will Welch left his imprint on Tom Arscott from a frantic clearance kick. Danny Barnes was similarly hands-on in thwarting a Sharks counter, Phil Godman’s flat passing keeping the Sale defence guessing.
Dom Barrow once again looked the part on the blind-side flank, the Under-20s World Cup winner rising high in the line-out and doing the little things well despite his side still finding it difficult to get out of their own half.
Dwayne Peel, a tightly-woven bundle of fast-twitch fibres if ever there was one, kept Sale motoring on – the Wales and Lions scrum-half sniping and feeding round the fringes. But Newcastle’s scrum was doing the business, eating up the ground and earning the approval of the officials.
Referee JP Doyle outstretched his arm to allow Godman a shot at the sticks as the opening half reached its midway point, and the Scottish fly-half obliged with a crisp, clean strike from 40 metres out on the right to tie the teams level.
Macleod swiftly wiped that out with his second penalty of the night as Newcastle’s line-out defence infringed, and the Falcons’ gradient steepened just before the half-hour when Barrow was shown yellow.
That set up the drive from which home captain Dan Braid broke away, the Kiwi flanker sliding in at the right corner to take his side past double figures.
It was just so much quicker than anything the Falcons had faced in the Championship, and how quickly they are able to adapt to this change in pace could play a part in defining how their season finishes.
Tom Catterick’s wildly ambitious penalty from five steps inside his own half fell well short of its intended target, but Godman chipped a second and then a third from half the distance as the gap was reduced to 11-9 at the interval.
A bout of aerial ping-pong may have done little for the purists as the second half began cagily, Alex Tait winning his battle of the tram-lines with Mark Cueto and Macleod, and in the scrum it was still the visitors enjoying the nudge.
That dominance finally put them in front for the first time on 48 minutes when Godman drilled his fourth penalty, Sale continuing to make the running in the loose, but finding themselves second best down the dark alleyways of the tight five.
A classic 9, 8, 7 move from the base of a ruck propelled the Sharks halfway up the field, Macleod firing wide from the resulting penalty.
Newcastle hit back with their most fluent spell of handling rugby, Blair intelligently mixing ambition with territory.
Clegg got on the field for his second ‘debut’ after rejoining Newcastle from Harlequins, but it was Sale controlling the scoreboard as Macleod regained his kicking range to pinch back the lead, slotting a penalty from out in front.
Mark Wilson’s eager foraging at a ruck on his own 22 earned a relieving penalty as Sale regrouped, and the scrum was proving a potent weapon as an eight-man shove handed Clegg a 40-metre penalty to nose ahead for the second and decisive time.
It was a win, however it came.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, D Barnes, A Powell, T Catterick, P Godman (R Clegg, 58), M Blair; F Montanella (S Wilson, 68), M Thompson (R Vickers, 66), O Tomaszczyk (K Brookes, 54), F McKenzie (C del Fava, 54), S MacLeod, D Barrow (M Wilson, 56), W Welch (captain), A Hogg.
Sin-bin: D Barrow (27 mins)
Falcons scorers – Penalties: P Godman 4, R Clegg.
SALE SHARKS: T Arscott, P Mackenzie (R Miller, 55), M Cueto, A Forsyth, T Brady, N Macleod, D Peel (W Cliff, 71); E Lewis Roberts (R Harrison, 60), M Jones (T Taylor, 53), H Thomas (V Cobilas, 68), J Mills, M Paterson, D Braid (captain), D Seymour, J Gaskell.
Sharks scorers – Tries: D Braid. Penalties: N Macleod 3.
Referee: JP Doyle