'Greatest effort was fighting cancer'

By Ben Hill

Ex-teammates and friends turn out to honour rugby star and family man.

A former Blues rugby player has been remembered as a great athlete and a loving family man at the school where his athletic prowess first began to thrive.

Blues and Auckland representative Kurtis Haiu died last week, aged 31, after a long battle with cancer, and yesterday, family, friends and former teammates attended his funeral at Auckland's Sacred Heart College.

All Black Kieran Read was among those present, with the current Blues squad led by coach Tana Umaga.

Others in attendance were Auckland and Marist stalwart Bernie McCahill and Haiu's former teammates David Gibson, Steve Devine, Andrew van der Heijden, Brent Ward, Bryce Williams, James Somerset and Justin Collins.

Haiu leaves behind wife Freida and daughters Aaliyah, aged 8, and Sienna, 6.

Aaliyah said she missed her dad "like crazy".

"I love you to the moon and back."

Freida Haiu said speaking at her husband's funeral was tough. "The memory of when we first met came to me and I started to cry and reminisce."

The couple had renewed their wedding vows before Kurtis died.

Onosa'i Auva'a, a former teammate and childhood friend, said Haiu's sporting ability was evident early in his life. "He and his brothers loved to swim, and play all sorts of sports.

"When Kurtis was 13, he left Whangarei to attend Sacred Heart College as a boarder. Kurtis was a star in the sporting arena and was known as one of the fittest athletes."

He made the school's 1st XV in the fourth form as a 14-year-old.

He gave the school his New Zealand Secondary Schools jersey, and was named sportsman of the year in his final year at Sacred Heart.

Auva'a said Haiu had just as much of a reputation for his huge appetite as his skill on the rugby field. He also spoke about Haiu's relentless pursuit of a cure for his ailment. "Spending weeks researching, Kurtis tried many different alternative treatments.

"With all his hard work, Kurtis kept fighting for another five years."

Wife Freida Haiu wipes away tears as she farewells her husband. Photo / Greg Bowker
Wife Freida Haiu wipes away tears as she farewells her husband. Photo / Greg Bowker

Auva'a said Haiu would go out of his way to help others.

Haiu's brother Justin said he was thankful to the people who supported his brother.

"We didn't see the physical restoration that we wanted, but we saw a restoration inside.

"Even though his body was weak, his spirit was strong."

Eldest brother Leon acknowledged those present for paying their respects.

"One of the measures of Kurtis is that we've been inundated by visitors coming to show their love, their support and to share memories."

Leon shared a memory where he gave All Black Keven Mealamu an awkward handshake which Kurtis used to mock Leon about, at which point Mealamu jumped up at the funeral to re-enact the interaction.

"Kurtis has loyalty like I don't know, and that's reflected in his friends," Leon said.

"His greatest effort wasn't on the rugby field, it was fighting cancer."

Leon said Kurtis refused to let on how much pain he was in when he was battling the disease.

"Because my brother was such a man's man I would try to never cry around him. I saw there his body emaciated, skeletal, his arms skinny, knowing he's gonna die and I just burst into tears, I couldn't control it.

"My brother got up off his bed even though he was weak as and hugged me and told me he loved me. I'll forever cherish those moments."

The service finished with Sacred Heart students and old boys performing a haka as Kurtis Haiu's coffin was taken away to his burial at Manukau Memorial Gardens.

- NZ Herald

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