Wilkinson said: "Not playing has had a massively detrimental effect on my life. One lesson from all this is that life has to change a little bit. I'm just going to take it one game at a time."
On most other Sundays this would have been a routine Premiership match, with nothing much riding on the outcome. Yesterday, though, there was the overriding issue of relegation, after Leeds' battling display against London Irish on Saturday gave them hope if Newcastle were to slip up.
By defeating the leaders Sale - who have never won at Kingston Park - and securing their first four-try bonus point of the season, Newcastle moved two places up the table and consigned the Tykes to National League One.
The Falcons, after a campaign of enigmatic rugby, are safe, and so is their prized asset Wilkinson, who had a hand in much of the Falcons' enterprising play as they took the game away from the Sharks, overcoming an eight-point deficit, with two tries from winger Tom May and another from lock Geoff Parling. Some resolute home defence then prevented Sale from staging a revival, despite a late trip to the sin-bin for the Falcons loose-head prop, Micky Ward, which ensured that the last few minutes were seen out with uncontested scrums.
Rob Andrew, the Newcastle director of rugby, said: "In the first half we were getting dragged into something we did not want to be in," he said. "But the players responded brilliantly, we grew in confidence and were able to put pace on the ball and play the way we know we can."
The fitness of the Sale squad, who need rest before the play-offs, meant 12 changes from the side that defeated Gloucester. They stayed top, and opened authoritatively as Chris Day's one-handed pass out of the tackle put Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe into the corner for a spanking try. Oriol Ripol got a second after the break but that was as far as they were allowed to go.
Newcastle: Tries Long, May 2, Parling; Conversions Burke 3; Penalties Burke 2. Sale: Tries Fernandez Lobbe, Ripol; Conversion Courrent; Penalties Courrent 2; Drop goal Robinson.
Newcastle: M Burke; T May, M Tait (J Noon, 68), M Mayerhofler (J Wilkinson, 40), A Elliott; T Flood, J Grindal; M Ward (J Williams, 40), A Long, R Morris (M Ward, 62), L Gross (O Finegan, 71), G Parling, M McCarthy, C Harris (B Woods, 40), C Charvis (capt).
Sale: D Larrechea (S Hanley, 61); O Ripol, C Mayor (B Foden, 73), E Seveali'i, J Robinson (capt); V Courrent, S Martens (R Wigglesworth, 76); E Roberts (S Turner, 46), S Bruno (A Titterrell, 34), B Stewart, I Fernandez Lobbe, C Day (M Hills, 57), N Bonner-Evans (S Turner, 36; J White 44), M Lund, S Chabal.
Referee: S Davey (Sussex).
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