Māori All Black and Chiefs rugby star Sean Wainui has been remembered as a ‘great man with a sincere heart, that cared deeply for everybody around him’.
Friends and whānau gathered at Mangatū Marae in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa to pay tribute to the 25-year-old who died in a car accident on Monday just outside Tauranga.
Among the hundreds in attendance, was Wainui's cousin Hosea Gear. Gear and players from Ngāti Porou East Coast performed a haka for Wainui who had promised to join the squad one day.
"He was one of the first ones that I asked when I signed up, I sent him a message and said cuzzy I got a jersey for you," said Gear.
"He obviously won't get the chance to wear it but you know we'll wear it for him. I suppose a part of our haka to him was to welcome him into our team and that now he is a part of us, and that we want him to follow our journey, to be a part of our journey."
Dozens of dignitaries from New Zealand Rugby, including board members Bailey Mackey and deputy chair Māori, Farah Palmer, remembered Wainui not just for his contribution to the sport, but his passion for Te Ao Māori.
"Sean was one of those people that really reflects everything we want in terms of bringing his whole Māori self to rugby," says Palmer.
“Talking to Luke Crawford, who's the kaumātua for the Māori All Blacks, he said Sean made the Māori All Blacks, ‘More Māori’. He was just genuine, he was a stickler for karakia before kai and he made all the players step up when it came to doing the haka and any tikanga stuff. I think that's why he's going to be so missed."
The 25-year-old played 53 games for Taranaki, nine for the Crusaders and represented New Zealand Māori since 2015, shifting to the Bay of Plenty this year.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said Wainui would be remembered for who he was on and off the field.
"The big smile, the dreads getting flicked, the hongis, he brought on this great character and the flair, but also a real sincere heart."
Robertson said he cared deeply for everybody around him and the game of rugby.
‘To sit there with New Zealand Rugby and the other teams, the Chiefs and Taranaki and Bay of Plenty as well, just shows we all know we're here because a great man has passed," he said.
New Zealand Rugby announced they are postponing the NPC match between Bay of Plenty and Northland scheduled to be played at Tauranga Domain on Sunday to allow players to grieve.
As a sign of respect, players, coaches, managers and match officials will be wearing black armbands, and Sean will be remembered with a special tribute and moment's silence prior to all Bunnings Warehouse NPC and Heartland Championship matches this weekend.
The NZRU said players in the current All Blacks squad set to face the USA Eagles on Sunday would be given the chance to sit the test out.
All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree said he thought it was unlikely players would skip the test.
"I think you’ll find that Sean would have wanted all those boys to be available for this test match and I’d be surprised if one of them didn’t want to play," he said.
Former teammate at the Crusaders, Codie Taylor, broke down in tears during a press conference on Tuesday while speaking to how the 25-year-old’s passing affected the ABs squad.
Wainui will be laid to rest on Rātapu at Te Wainui Marae in Whatatutu. Whānau and friends of his have applied for exemptions to cross alert level borders to travel to his tangi.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said Thursday that exemptions are a "truly difficult area" but he said the ministry does take cultural needs into account.
“[Our] hearts go out" to Wainui's family at this time, Robertson said.
The Chiefs rugby team have established a Givealittle campaign for Wainui's wife Paige and children Kawariki and Arahia.
"Once a Chief, always a Chief," the campaign reads.
Paige released a brief statement thanking the public for their support and requesting privacy.
"We just want to thank everyone for their love and generosity. The beautiful tributes that have come from those who loved him all across the world means a lot to us all."
"We understand there are many hurting right now and wanting to hear from the whānau, but please respect that we have just lost our baby brother, a son, a husband and a father," it read.