Halaifonua tribute in final

JULIAN RAETHEL AND MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 25/07/2013
Willie Halaifonua
Facebook/John Rau
TRAGIC LOSS: Willie Halaifonua, in action as ball carrier, dies in hospital on Tuesday.

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Massey's premier rugby side will wear armbands in honour of Willie Halaifonua during the North Harbour premier grand final this Saturday.

Mr Halaifonua, who played for Takapuna, died in hospital on Tuesday night after he collapsed following their semifinal against Massey on Saturday.

Massey premier rugby coach Brent Semmons says that the club's thoughts and prayers are with the Halaifonua family.

"The whole team is pretty shocked.

"Although I didn't know him personally Willie seemed young and fit.

"He played really well and ran the ball hard in that game and was duly awarded man of the match," Mr Semmons says.

The 27-year-old fell unconscious on his way back to the changing rooms after the match at Onewa Domain.

He was rushed to Auckland Hospital where he underwent emergency brain surgery before being placed in an induced coma.

The Tongan father of two young children died surrounded by his wife and other family members.

Mr Semmons says he was unaware of what was going on when the ambulance arrived at the grounds.

"I had no idea of how he got injured.

"Rugby is more of a collision sport than a contact sport.

"It's played at very high speeds and people do get knocked around.

"But I've never seen anyone die from it until now," he says.

Takapuna team management reported that Mr Halaifonua had suffered a number of knocks during the game but did not appear to have suffered from a concussion.

New Zealand Rugby Foundation chief executive Lisa Kingi says the foundation has offered counselling for the Massey team.

"We're keeping very focussed on the family and both the teams right now.

"We'll do whatever it takes to get through this difficult period," she says.

Takapuna Rugby Club players and officials held vigil at Auckland Hospital in the days following Mr Halaifonua's collapse.

Family, friends and team mates have shared their grief on social media with many remembering him as a gifted, yet humble sportsman and a loving father.

Massey play North Shore in the final at North Harbour Stadium with kickoff at 3pm.

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