Former All Black Pita Alatini recognised the vacant and childlike expression on the face of his old mate, Teina Pora.
Alatini knew his former team-mate was doing time for murder, but a sense of injustice dawned on him when he watched a recent 3rd Degree investigation into the case.
The TV footage of Pora looking bewildered as he stood in the dock being sentenced resonated strongly with Alatini. "I could still see the boy in him that I knew back in the old days."
Just four years before Susan Burdett was murdered in 1992, Pora and Alatini had been tearing up the rugby fields of Otara.
At age 12, Alatini and Pora were both selected for Auckland East in the Roller Mills competition in 1988, and became very close mates.
Alatini remembers Pora as a hard-as-nails openside flanker. "He was a tough little kid. I suppose rugby would have taken him away from whatever he was going back to."
Alatini went on to King's College where he was selected for the national secondary schools team.
He lost contact with Pora, who dropped out of Tangaroa College within a couple of years.
Less than four years later, Burdett was murdered in her South Auckland home, a crime for which Pora has spent the past 20 years in jail.
Alatini said the Pora he knew had trouble expressing himself and was clearly out of his depth during the police interviews and court case.
"He might have had something in his head but didn't really know how to say it or how to bring it out."
Grant Hobbs, who coached both Pora and Alatini as schoolboys, said rugby provided a camaraderie and structure for Pora away from his troubled home life. It was a big deal to make the Auckland East squad, he said.
"For these young men from Otara it was a way to become a hero," Hobbs said. "Pita was always destined to be a very good rugby player and Teina was, too. That's the unfortunate thing."
Hobbs believes Pora's life would have been very different had he been mentored through the transition to high school. Pora plays rugby league for the Auckland Prison side, the Paremoremo Raiders.
Investigations by Herald journalist Phil Taylor, and subsequently 3rd Degree, have raised doubts over the police investigation into Pora's crime.
This week, Justice Minister Judith Collins added her voice to the many politicians who have called the conviction into question.
Pora is believed to have given a false confession in an attempt to gain a reward payout, and serial rapist Malcolm Rewa has been named as the prime suspect.