Former Warrior and NZ Rugby League ambassador Henry Fa'afili says he is "saddened" by the news of an ''all-out'' brawl at a senior match in Tokoroa.
Fa'afili, also the head coach and mentor at Tauranga Boxing Academy, told the Rotorua Daily Post it was a "very sad" day when this happened in any sporting code because "it's only a game after all".
His comments come after a brawl erupted at a senior rugby league game between Taupō Phoenix and Forestland Falcons on Saturday afternoon. The brawl involved punches and kicks - including a cowardly punch.
Fa'afili said: "It's not a good look, especially when kids are seeing grown men fighting and brawling. It has a huge impact on children when they are exposed to this sort of violence.
"They go to these games to support their favourite team's players and some of these kids dream of becoming involved in the game at a premier level when they grow up.
"And they look up to the senior players in terms of how to play the game and learn also how to conduct themselves on the field.
"We encourage fair play in order to grow rugby league as a sport, we don't need what happened over the weekend, especially in front of children. It's totally unacceptable.
"Kids are our future next superstars and we must make sure they are put in front of good role models," he said.
A Tokoroa father and spectator who initially spoke about the incident on Wednesday said he went public after losing his good friend MMA fighter Fau Vake.
Vake, 25, a promising mixed martial arts (MMA) kickboxer, died on May 23 after an alleged assault while waiting for a taxi in Auckland city on May 16.
Four men are facing charges over the alleged attack.
The spectator, who did not want to be named, said he, his partner and his 10-year-old son were among about 200 spectators at Saturday's match in Tokoroa.
He said the brawl happened during a Round 3 Waiariki Rugby League Competition game played at the Tokoroa Memorial Sportsground.
The spectator told the Rotorua Daily Post he was "stunned and appalled" by the actions of the players and some spectators who ran on to the field to join in.
He said there had been six other fixtures played at the venue in "played in good spirits'' before the fighting broke out about 15 minutes before the end of the game.
"It was clear that when Taupō Phoenix and Forestland Falcons players took the field there were tensions between them, probably because this was an annual grudge match."
The spectator also said fighting soon developed into an "all-out brawl" which included lots of jersey-pulling, hard shoves, multiple punches, and kicks to the body.
"And when it was all over there was a trail of injured people everywhere, some who were trampled over in the melee.
"The referee had no chance of controlling things ... as there were fights breaking out everywhere," he said.
The spectator said he and his partner were "shocked and disgusted" by the bad behaviour both on and off the field which resulted in loud gasps and tears among the crowd.
Some people on the sidelines even shouted encouragement, including a woman who screamed "get him" to someone brawling on the field, he said.
"The most horrific thing was when I saw some people running on the field to join in and little kids also on the field were nearly bowled over by those mauling each other."
The spectator also said he also saw another player receive a cowardly punch to the side of his head by an opposing team member.
"And while the injured man was still on the ground other people trampled over him to get to the perpetrator, he said.
At one stage there were about 40 to 50 people on the field, some of who were desperately trying to break up the fights or help the injured.
"It only takes one punch for a person to be seriously hurt or die ...
"If this had happened a couple of hundred metres down the road at a local pub these people would be held accountable," he said.
The Bay of Plenty Rugby League Union held an independent judicial board hearing into the fighting last night.
The Rotorua Daily Post sought comment from police whether anyone had been arrested over Saturday's brawl.
A police communication spokeswoman said police were advised via St John ambulance about 4.30pm of a disorder event at the Memorial Sportsground.
"Police did attend, however will not be taking any further action at this stage," she said.
"Our information is that the matter will be dealt with by the rugby league union in the first instance, who will advise police if necessary."
A St John ambulance spokesman said an ambulance was called to the venue but staff were stood down by the police before they arrived at the ground.
Phoenix Taupo Rugby League club secretary Stephanie Ngamohu-Tahana declined to comment, and Forestland Falcons Rugby League & Sports Club secretary Rachel Joyce said she would not comment until she had spoken to the other committee members.
Bay of Plenty Rugby League interim chairman Des Hemara said he could not comment on what happened during the match while an investigation was under way.
However, he said there was an independent judicial board hearing last night starting with the players, followed by an examination of the actions of both clubs.
Hemara said he was still seeking any CCTV footage and independent video of what happened during the game and would seek advice from the NZ Rugby League.
He hoped the independent judicial hearing process would be finalised by the end of this week, but the board's ruling may not be delivered straight away.
NZ Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters could not be contacted for comment.
Last month, a Bay of Plenty rugby player was handed a 52-week suspension after an incident the match referee described "the most ugly piece of foul play" he had seen.
The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union said a ball carrier in the game was struck in the face by a would-be tackler with a "sickening swinging arm tackle" which saw the ball carrier knocked out before he hit the ground.
The injured player was airlifted to the hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone.
In another incident the same weekend, a misconduct charge was brought against a senior player who verbally swore at and abused a referee after the full-time whistle.
That player was suspended for 34 weeks.
These incidents were part of a weekend full of ill-disciplined rugby in the Bay of Plenty with 11 red cards and one sighting shown throughout school and club rugby matches.
All cases are heard by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union's Disciplinary Committee, made up of community-based volunteers, with a vast and extensive rugby pedigree.
Community rugby manager Pat Rae, who has worked at Bay of Plenty Rugby since 2015, earlier said he could not remember a ban as long as 52-weeks being handed out.
"In a weekend where there were 74 games of rugby held across the region, from Under-11 to premier men's and everything in between, it's a shame that a handful of games had really poor player behaviour."
Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union has been trialling a new way of dealing with disciplinary matters in the junior and secondary school space.