A triple tragedy has struck a proud rugby club with three players dead in less than a month.
On Friday night Viliamu Tavalea, 31, collapsed in convulsions and despite the efforts of team-mates and ambulance officers performing CPR for 45 minutes, he died on the field of the Drury and Districts Rugby Football Club.
The cause of his collapse will remain a mystery until after the results of an autopsy.
Tavalea was getting ready for one of the happiest times of his life - he had just sent out wedding invitations last week.
The shock at the club comes hard on the heels of the death of two popular junior players and one of their friends a fortnight ago - their team was this weekend playing the first match since their death, marking it as a special memorial to the teens.
Yesterday a kaumatua blessed the club in the wake of Tavalea's death.
"It's been a wicked two weeks for the club," said club captain Peter Helg. "We're still grieving for the three boys."
For club president Graeme Jackson, the blow has been especially hard.
His son Liam, 18, was one of those killed on June 29. He was also there on Friday night and saw Tavalea collapse and die.
Just moments before Tavalea and team-mates took to the field, he had been posing proudly for official club photos, Jackson said. Helg said Tavalea, known to all as Big Willie, had a big heart and was loved by all at the club.
"He was a real character and very humble," Helg said.
Tavalea planned to marry his partner Annie Colgan in December. The pair have an 11-month-old son together.
Colgan's brother Tim described Tavalea as "really hard-working family man".
"He was a gentle giant, really. He loved rugby, he was obsessed with it," he said.
"He loved my sister dearly and he was just lots of fun to be around. He was just an all-round good guy."
Tim said his sister was struggling to cope with the loss.
"Obviously, we're all pretty shocked, but she's been really brave," he said.
Tavalea had moved to New Zealand from Tonga four years ago to work for Noble Plumbing in Drury.
He joined the rugby club and proved himself a superb athlete, Helg said.
"He was probably the fittest on the field," Helg said, which made his collapse more shocking. Committed to sport, he did not drink or smoke. But he was still the life of the party.
Past club president Mike French said: "He liked to party with the boys, enjoying a good night out. He was the sober driver for many guys.
"He was salt of the earth. Willie just fitted straight in."
It was just 10 minutes into the game on Friday night when he collapsed during an in-house derby between the two Drury senior teams.
A funeral date is yet to be set for Tavalea, but it will be a grim repeat for team-mates. A joint funeral was held just last week for Graeme Jackson's son Liam and his two friends Alan Jones, 18, and Ashley Foley, 19. Jones and Jackson played all their junior rugby for Drury and were known as some of the top players for their age. This year they had switched to play for the Bombay club's Under-21 team because Drury had no under-21 for them.
The former Rosehill High School students were driving home to Auckland in the early hours on June 29 when their Nissan Sentra left a road in Gordonton, northeast of Hamilton, and hit a tree, Waikato road policing manager, Inspector Leo Tooman, said.
A fourth passenger, Jaryd Doughty, 19, from Pukekohe remains in a stable condition in Waikato Hospital's high dependency unit.
Alan and Liam's numbers, 11 and 15, have been retired for the season and their jerseys given to their families.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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