Back at Boundary Park after an uncomfortable exile in Rochdale, Oldham led for most of the game but only clinched two points to launch their campaign in the Northern Ford Premiership in the last few minutes. The scores were tied at 20-20 and Hornets had already failed to break the deadlock with two drop goal attempts when Anthony Gibbons, one of 10 new signings in the Oldham starting line-up, put one over to give them a single- point lead.
Dane Dorahy, who had an intriguing battle all afternoon with Oldham's player-coach, Mike Ford, came close to putting over an equaliser, but Oldham sealed it when Gavin Price-Jones stuck out an instinctive arm to tackle Mark Campbell high and Mark Sibson landed the penalty.
Rochdale had taken an early lead with a soft try when Darren Robinson squirmed over from dummy half, but their discipline let them down as Oldham built a healthy first-half lead. Ford's sleight of hand set Wes Rogers over for the equaliser and Price-Jones' knock-on from Ford's kick surrendered the possession from which Campbell claimed Oldham's second try.
When John Hough forced his way over and Sibson added his third goal, Oldham were well in control, but Rochdale's recovery before and after half-time showed that they too could be an improving side this season. Lee Hudson scored one try and set up another with an inside ball to Chris Newall, who then provided the pass for the try from Scott Martin that put Hornets ahead.
But Sibson soon levelled the scores with a penalty after Ford's scuttle had caught Rochdale offside, and Oldham, backed by the sort of crowd that would soon put the club on a firm footing, kept their heads the better in the final minutes.
"I am proud of the way my players came back, but if their discipline in the first half had been as good as in the second, I don't think Oldham would have got near us," said Rochdale's new coach, Steve Linnane, who complained that the referee had missed a blatant trip by Leo Casey on Dorahy that could have given his side a match-winning penalty.
Ford, after a tireless personal display, rated this as "a vital win". He said: "It was very, very tense at the end, but we can only get better. It was only our second game together."
Oldham: Sibson; Hayes, A Gibbons, Rich, McNicholas; D Gibbons, Ford; Casey, Hough, Proctor, Campbell, Rogers, O'Reilly. Substitutes used: Clegg, Mannion, Holland.
Rochdale Hornets: Wilde; Hudson, Martin, Cooper, Price-Jones; Wood, Dorahy; Sculthorpe, Robinson, McMenemy, McKinney, Derose, Newall. Substitutes used: Moore, Cameron, Waring, Bunce.
Referee: C Morris (Huddersfield).