One-time Warriors' prodigy Shaun Metcalf and two friends who conspired with him to viciously attack his pregnant former girlfriend have been given a "last chance" of rehabilitation by returning to league.
The New Zealand Rugby League board has decided the three Auckland 17-year-olds, suspended for assaulting the teenage girl in a suburban reserve nearly two years ago, can rejoin the code.
Executive chairman Sel Pearson said it was a difficult decision given the "socially appalling" nature of the crime but the board, after widely seeking advice, believed it was an opportunity for rehabilitation that the teenagers should not be refused.
Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro said it was an awful crime but she supported the NZRL decision as the culprits had been punished and everyone should have a chance of rehabilitation.
"Though what they did was abhorrent and foul, it did not lead to the death of anyone.
"They are still young and hopefully through sport and with other support they can manage to go on and lead decent lives."
Metcalf, Geoffrey Ruaporo and Kyle Donovan were all under-16 league representatives, and in 2004 Metcalf became the youngest player for the Warriors.
Mr Pearson said that despite their early promise, league didn't really need them. The board had seriously questioned, therefore, whether the NZRL really wanted the three back in the game.
"But if it helps turn their lives around and for them to contribute positively to the community, then it is probably the right decision.
"Rugby league provides them a tool. It's all up to them now."
Mr Pearson said all three were on parole and the NZRL would watch them closely.
"They understand this is their last chance. They show extreme remorse [and] are not trying to defend their actions."
Mr Pearson said the decision was reached by six board members and three independent judicial committee members, including a judge.
They had sought views from the Corrections Department, counsellors and anger management experts.
Mr Pearson said the trio had been "children making an adult decision - a pretty bad one" - and he had enormous sympathy for the victim, who now has a daughter aged 17 months, and for her family.
He told the family of the board's decision in person on Saturday and said they were disappointed. "I can understand they feel aggrieved."
'Abhorrent and foul'
* In August 2003, Shaun Metcalf and Geoffrey Ruaporo beat and kicked Metcalf's girlfriend in the stomach in a bid to make her miscarry. Kyle Donovan was present during the beating.
* The assailants were given jail terms of 18 months, and Donovan 15 months, for attempting to procure an abortion, aggravated robbery, and injuring with intent.
* The victim delivered a healthy girl.