YORK Wasps coach Leo Epifania is hopeful captain Peter Edwards will be back in the pack next week after both received knockout blows yesterday.

The Kiwi hooker was out for the count just three minutes into his debut back in Wasps' colours, while Epifania in turn lost his inspirational skipper almost as soon as the new Northern Ford Premiership season began.

"It was the kind of start we didn't want," said the Australian coach after seeing his side lose 42-4 to Whitehaven.

"He (Edwards) is raring to go for next week's trip to Barrow but we're going to take any medical precautions we have to."

Added the coach: "The player's welfare comes first and we'll have to see how he is."

Edwards was out cold after an apparent clash of heads with team-mate Nathan Pincher, and his loss was a big one as York conceded 18 points in the next ten minutes.

"It was definitely a blow. He's the captain and all of a sudden he's taken out of the game," Epifania told the Evening Press.

"He does a lot of our organising and for the other players to see him going off was a blow."

The new Wasps coach enjoyed an inauspicious start at Huntington Stadium, but took encouragement from his side's second-half display, having been 32-0 down at the break.

He said: "The first half from my point of view, and that of the players, was very disappointing.

"We expected a lot more from ourselves - we had just 30 per cent completion rate in the first half and without the ball you crucify yourself.

"However, in the second half the boys came out and dug in deep and had a real good fight.

"We got back-to-back sets of six, scored our try and generally played better. We've got to take that second half and have a look at what we did right."

Wasps did not have a pre-season friendly but neither did Whitehaven and Epifania does not believe a previous 80 minutes' rugby would have helped his side greatly.

"We did not have possession of the ball and when we haven't got the ball there's little chance of gelling.

"We need time but the fact we did not have a friendly was not the reason for our poor first half.

"Our preparations have been outstanding given our circumstances and we expected more from ourselves.

"The players tired themselves out by making errors in the first half, but they fought it out and it's that that I'm happy with."

Epifania pledged there would be a lot more hard labour to come. "We need to put in a lot of work but we're going to do that," he said.

"I know York went though a whole year of similarly bad scorelines but that's something we are going to get away from.

"We were never going to get it right to start off with. I need to see what is going wrong before I can make it go right. It's a long season and we'll be up for it every game."

Epifania added that he might make changes for next week's trip to Barrow: "There are a few other players I want to try, which was always the plan."

Northern Ford Premiership RESULTS

Chorley 16, Featherstone 28 (Chorley - T: Kilgannon, Reddicliffe, Noone. G: Jones 2. Featherstone - T: Newlove 2, Bastow, Rooney. G: Rooney 5. DG: Rooney 2. HT 2-21, crowd 610).

Dewsbury 25, Keighley 22 (Dewsbury - T: Wainwright, Chapman, Flynn, Parker. G: Redfearn 3, Brough. DG: Redfearn. Keighley - T: Rushforth, Horne, Banks, Fearon. G: Ashton 3. HT 11-10, crowd 1,782).

Gateshead 18, Doncaster 26 (Gateshead - T: Johnson 2, Hughes. G: C Briggs 3. Doncaster - T: Rushworth, Horne, Banks, Fearon. G: Ashton 3. HT 6-8, crowd 6-8).

Hull KR 50, Hunslet 6 (Hull KR - T: Stott 2, McLarron, Murdock, Richard Wilson, Rob Wilson, Charles, Fletcher. G: Charles 9. Hunslet - T: Ross. G: Ross HT 26-6.

Leigh 30, Barrow 12 (Leigh - T: Turley, Roper, Bretherton, Rowley, Isherwood. G: Turley 5. Barrow - T: Salmon, Whitehead. G: Atkinson 2. HT 14-6, crowd 2,843).

Rochdale 26, Batley 14 (Rochdale - T: Mayberry, Calland, Billy 2, Ball. G: Agar, Wood 2. Batley - T: Tomlinson, Cass. G: Dyson 3. HT 16-2, crowd 1,133).

Workington 12, Sheffield 10 (Workington - T: Frazer, Charlton. G: S Wood 2. Sheffield - T: Poynter. G: Goddard 3. HT 0-2, crowd 1,308).

York 4, Whitehaven 42 (York - T: Austerfield. Whitehaven - T: Joe 2, Lester 2, G Purdham 3. G: O'Neill 7. HT 0-32, crowd 790).

Tour Match: Wales Students 12 Queensland Students 26.

Updated: 15:53 Tuesday, December 04, 2001