Leeds, who seemed doomed not so long ago, moved off the foot of the Aviva Premiership after coming out on top in a relegation battle thanks to two late drop-goals from their fly-half, Adrian Jarvis. Newcastle are now bottom of the table, after squandering a winning position from 20-7 up. They are a point behind Leeds, though they have a game in hand.
Tries from Micky Young and Jeremy Manning and 10 points from Jimmy Gopperth's boot gave the Falcons that lead, but Leeds followed the England hooker Steve Thompson's try with scores from Peter Wackett and Gareth Hardy to put themselves in front. Gopperth hauled Newcastle back into the ascendancy but Jarvis struck decisively in the dying moments.
The Leeds head coach, Neil Back, said: "I'm really happy for Adrian. He's come into the squad late [from Bristol] and he has done really well for us. He's controlling things really well on the field and he's been a real pro and he did the business for us when it really mattered.
"The squad today were under a lot of pressure and we've got the result and that showed the character. It was critical that we got on the board before half-time and we got seven points out of it and that lifted us, coming off 20-14. We had 100% belief going into the game but we did make some fundamental errors.
"The game plan was to play rugby and both sides did that – there were five scored and we have now scored 11 in the last five games and we're playing well."
Newcastle spurned a kickable penalty in the 10th minute, to go for a catch and drive, and such an aggressive ploy looked likely to pay off when the ball was taken up towards the Leeds line. But the Falcons pack spilled the ball and Leeds cleared. Two minutes later no such risk was taken when Gopperth kicked a penalty – awarded for a high tackleon Luke Fielden – to make it 3-0. Newcastle's pulverising rolling maul had Leeds back-tracking again in the 16th minute and Young wriggled through for a try which Gopperth converted for 10-0.
Leeds got back in the game in the 22nd minute when a sustained forward drive ended with Thompson forcing his way over from close range; Jarvis made it 10-7 with the conversion. Almost immediately Fielden was over the in the corner for Newcastle, but the wing lost the ball as he dived in. Gopperth and Young then probed to win a penalty that Gopperth kicked in the 28th minute for 13-7.
Ally Hogg's blasting run through the middle set up Newcastle's second try, Manning finishing off a flowing back move in the corner. Gopperth kicked the conversion in the 32nd minute. Jarvis missed a chance to pull three points back when his penalty shot hit the post and went wide but Newcastle then gave Leeds a try in first-half stoppage time, after failing to find touch from a penalty. Leeds ran the ball back and Wackett scored – Jarvis's conversion made it 20-14 at the break.
Jarvis cut the Newcastle lead to only three points early in the second half, kicking a penalty after Newcastle dragged down a maul. Sustained Leeds pressure then ended with Hardy driving over for a try in the 51st minute that took Leeds in front for the first time, Jarvis's conversion making it 24-20.
Gopperth's 62nd-minute penalty cut the deficit to one point as Newcastle's pack got themselves on to the front foot and five minutes later the Kiwi fly-half edged his side back in front with a fine penalty from near the touchline. The Leeds pack then crushed Newcastle at successive scrums and turned over a line-out for Jarvis to drop a goal and put his side back in front, at 27-26.
With four minutes left on the clock Gopperth kicked another massive penalty, only for Leeds to battle their way back once more. Jarvis kicked his second drop-goal with 90 seconds left on the clock and the win belonged to Leeds.
Newcastle's head coach, Alan Tait, said: "We have to regroup and we have to keep fighting. It's up to the players to pull together and we have to scrap for every point and muster a win from somewhere."
Newcastle J Manning (G Bobo, 54); L Fielden, L Eves, T Tu'ipulotu, A Tait; J Gopperth (capt), M Young (C Pilgrim, 44); J Golding (G Shiells, 59), M Thompson (R Vickers, 34), E Murray (K Brookes, 72), T Swinson (F Levi, 76), A van der Heijden, M Wilson, A Hogg, W Welch (A Gray, 62).
Leeds M Stephenson; L Blackett, H Fa'afili, L Burrell, P Wackett (S Tadulala, 70); A Jarvis, S Mathie; G Hardy (G Denman, 59), S Thompson, P Swainston (J Gomez, 29), D Browne, M Wentzel (capt; R Oakley, 47), K Myall, A To'oala (R Paul, 52), H Fourie.
Referee A Small (London).
Tries: Young, Manning
Cons: Gopperth 2
Pens: Gopperth 5
Tries: Thompson, Wackett, Hardy
Cons: Jarvis 3
DGs: Jarvis 2