Rugby player's condition worsens

By Steve Deane

Friends say Willie Halaifonua (second from right) is a very humble man and devoted to his wife, Turea, and their two children Julius and Leila.
Friends say Willie Halaifonua (second from right) is a very humble man and devoted to his wife, Turea, and their two children Julius and Leila.

Takapuna rugby player Willie Halaifonua was last night still fighting for his life in Auckland City Hospital after collapsing with a head injury at the conclusion of a match on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Halaifonua's condition worsened yesterday.

The hospital altered the 27-year-old father of two's condition from "critical but stable" to "critical, causing concern".

Family and friends have reportedly been flocking to the hospital to visit Mr Halaifonua, who attended Mt Roskill Grammar and worked part-time as a barber.

A friend of the family described him as "very humble". He reportedly lost a lot of weight a few years ago and got back into rugby, something he and his family loved.

"He's a really good guy, Big Willie," the friend said. "That's what we called him back in school. He lost heaps of weight over the years and became a family man.

"He loves his family and especially his kids. That's all he used to talk to me about - his kids."

North Harbour Rugby Union chief executive Brett Hollister said there was still optimism that Mr Halaifonua would recover.

"Absolutely there is optimism. Nothing has really changed. They are still undertaking tests and that will continue." Mr Halaifonua's family were coping well, he said.

"Understandably they are praying for his welfare. He has got a tight and committed family and they are supporting him."

Mr Hollister dismissed reports Mr Halaifonua had suffered several knocks to the head during the match against Massey and played on.

He said the injury was the result of a single clash of heads with a Massey player with one minute remaining in the match.

"There was one collision at the very end of the game that he was involved in," Mr Hollister said.

"He was checked by the physio. The other player left the field and about a minute later the game ended. It was only then when the two teams were shaking hands that he collapsed."

The family had requested privacy, Mr Hollister said.

"They will not be making any comment, and we just ask that you guys [the media] respect their privacy at the moment."

Takapuna chairman Simon Cheesman spent yesterday at the hospital alongside the Halaifonua family. There was no change in Mr Halaifonua's condition throughout the day, he said.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew offered his best wishes to the family.

"We hope for the best," Mr Tew said. "I know the kid is very ill and we are doing all we can to support him through the [NZ Rugby] Foundation.

"I don't know the circumstances. All I know is that he collapsed at the end of the game and had a brain haemorrhage."

- NZ Herald

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