Leicester Tigers scored four tries against Newcastle Falcons to record a well-earned 30-28 victory in the Kings of the North at Kingston Park on Friday evening.
Tigers swept into a 22-0 lead in the first half as Harry Thacker, Seremaia Bai and Riccardo Brugnara all crossed for the visitors.
They were pegged back by Todd Clever's try on his debut and a penalty score right on half-time to lead 22-14 at the break.
Falcons came back to within a point through Ruki Tipuna's score, but Freddie Burns finished off a flowing counter-attack for the bonus-pount fourth try and Tommy Bell landed a penalty to move Tigers 20-21 ahead.
Chris Harris scored a fourth try for the hosts to set up a nervy finish but Tigers held firm, holding Harris up over the line in Falcons' final attack to record a second victory in the Kings of the North.
Mathew Tait led out Tigers against his former club, as Richard Cockerill selected an unchanged backline. Tom Croft was named in a back row alongside Mike Williams and Lachlan McCaffrey, Thacker started at hooker and Jack Roberts was named in the matchday squad for the first time in the pre-season programme.
The Falcons gave first starts to Mouritz Botha, the former Saracens and England lock and former USA captain Clever in the pack.
Tigers drew first blood when Freddie Burns punished a ruck offence on the Falcons 22 with a well-struck penalty after four minutes.
At the other end, Falcons turned down a shot at the posts with a 40m penalty to kick for territory. But Tigers made a mess of the lineout and Burns found touch on their 22.
Again the hosts went for touch with a penalty and again Scott MacLeod was the target. Tigers held up the initial drive and then halted Zach Kibirige in his tracks as he peeled off the maul. Eventually a big hit on Botha overturned possession and McCaffrey's clearance found touch on halfway.
Tigers were dogged in defence and, on a number of occasions in the opening 20 minutes, overturned possession in open play and at the lineout.
One such occasion saw Croft win lineout ball on halfway and Tigers struck. Thacker spun out of Botha's attempted tackle near halfway, bounced out of two more tackles and had the strength to hold off Marcus Watson to finish his run to the line. Burns converted to put Tigers 10-0 ahead.
Last man George Catchpole was alert to Botha's break through the middle and his low tackle stopped the lock 5m out. It proved a pivotal intervention as Tigers again overturned possession for Catchpole to kick deep. Burns fielded Newcastle's return kick and sparked a swift counterattack that went through Tait, Peter Betham, and Adam Thompstone and finished with Bai reaching out to score at the right corner.
Tigers were on top at this stage, with McCaffrey making good yards down the left. Tigers remained patient, going through the phases before Harrison's snipe took him up to the line and Brugnara finished from close range. Burns's conversion gave Tigers a 22-0 lead.
Tait's excellent tackle then halted a threatening Falcons move that saw Clever and Kibirige offloading to good effect. But Tigers were unable to exit their 22 and Clever charged down Burns's attempted clearance and dotted down for the hosts' first score. Craig Willis converted.
Tigers went down to 14 men 70 seconds before the break when Thompstone was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
The Falcons threatened a score from the resulting lineout but Tigers held up the ball over the line. Newcastle turned up the heat at the resulting scrum and with the Tigers set-piece under pressure referee Andrew Small awarded the penalty try. Willis converted as Tigers led 22-14 at the break.
Tigers introduced Tommy Bell, Tiziano Pasquali and Roberts at half-time for Tait, Brugnara and Bai.
Tigers came under pressure early in the second half at a close-range lineout. They held up the drive but scrum-half Tipuna isolated Balmain at the side of the maul and angled a run to the corner for his side's third try. Willis added the conversion to bring Falcons back to within a point.
Bell was alert to Penny's break into Tigers territory, making the covering tackle and then picking up the loose ball to take Tigers up to their 10m line.
It was another telling contribution as Tigers swept upfield moments later for their bonus-point score. Roberts and Catchpole made huge inroads down the Newcastle left, Catchpole popped a pass inside for Burns, who juggled possession before finishing untouched at the left corner to give Tigers a 27-21 lead.
Tigers went close to another try moments later. Betham broke the line and found Roberts, who was tap-tackled 10m from the line where his offload went to ground and the chance went away.
Tigers continued to press and Tait's dancing feet created an opening for Sam Harrison but again he was stopped just short. Tigers recycled and looked to have an overlap on the left but Penny stepped out of the line and knocked-on as he tried a one-handed interception.
Leicester won the penalty at the scrum and Bell kicked the visitors into a 30-21 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
Tigers finished the game with 14 men. Williams, who was back on the field for Croft, received a yellow card for a high tackle in midfield.
Tigers looked to have weathered the storm when Pearce emerged from the back of a scrum and barrelled up to the Leicester 22. But he was robbed of possession and Harris's angled run took him over on the right. Brett Connon added the extras to leave Leicester 30-28 up with five minutes left.
Tigers came under huge pressure as the clocked ticked into the final minute, but Connon ignored bodies on his outside and slid a kick behind the Leicester defence that was cleared to touch by Tait.
With the clock run down, Falcons had one last attack and thought they had created the winning score when Harris went on his own. But he was brilliantly tackled and, as his momentum took him over the line, Tigers managed to get bodies underneath him to prevent the touchdown.