A promising young rugby league player who died suddenly on Boxing Day has been remembered by his family today as a happy, caring and talented young man who was "loved by everyone".
Tala Mailei, 17, who had been training with the Vodafone Warriors' wider under-20 squad, was found dead in his hometown of Christchurch at the weekend.
He died shortly after celebrating his grandmother's birthday, where he wrote on Facebook: "Happy 75th birthday Mama! Blessed to have you in our lives and may God bless you with many more years to come. We love you!"
The exact circumstances surrounding the player's death are not yet known.
Warriors managing director Jim Doyle said the club contacted Mailei's family after learning of the news.
Today, the local Samoan and church community are rallying around the Mailei family.
Elder brother Vaa Mailei said the family - including mother Mulipola Omai, father Saamapuainu, and 11-year-old brother Alesana, are "trying to stay strong for each other".
"We will pull through together," the 23-year-old told the Herald.
"We can't do do anything but celebrate and remember the memories we shared with Tala.
"He was a man of god, he was very caring and loved his family and friends. He was cheesy, always smiling, and loved by everyone."
Tala started playing the game of league, which would become his passion, at the age of 5.
He played Christchurch club footy for Linwood Keas, Celebration Lions, and Aranui Eagles.
Tala also played for Shirley Boys' High School before moving for his final year at Aranui High School to "chase his dream", brother Vaa said.
The 17-year-old spent this year in the Aranui League Academy and represented Aranui High School at the national secondary schools tournament at Papakura in early September.
He returned to Auckland the following month for the Warriors' annual open trial for the National Youth Competition under-20 team.
The promising centre impressed Warriors coaches and was invited to train with the club in January.
"He played in the schoolboys and our scouts thought it was clear he had a bit of talent," Doyle said.
"He was on the fringes of the wider squad and was due to come back and train next year after being home for the Christmas break."
His brother Vaa said the whole family and local community were extremely proud of his league prowess.
When he made the Warriors, a team he's always supported, along with fellow NRL team, Melbourne Storm, "Everyone was just name-dropping, 'Oh he's my cousin...'" Vaa said.
"He loved his schools and was happy to put them, and our family as a whole, on the map," he added.
"Both our goals, like any Pacific Island family, was to help our family financially, to make our parents proud, and give back to them."
The family knew he was a well-liked and popular young man.
But news of his sudden death has resulted in a flood of tributes to the family and on social media networks.
"We have been overwhelmed with the responses and the love that we've been getting from everyone. It's made our time to heal a lot easier," said Vaa.
"The local community, church community, is really pulling through. There must be 40 people here right now cooking and putting up marquees.
"With the Pacific Island community, when one does well for themselves, everyone gets behind them, and Tala was no different from the ones who came before him."
The death came as a "huge shock" to the tight-knit family, Vaa said.
"I can't believe it. I guess time heals everything."
A family memorial service will be held in Christchurch next Monday before being laid to rest the following day.
Yesterday, Aranui High School posted on their Facebook page to express their tributes to "a rising star in the rugby league world".
"Our deepest condolences go to his aiga [family], friends, fellow league players and to the Warriors. RIP Tala."
Mr Doyle said the Auckland-based franchise was also devastated. He reached out to the family: "It's a dreadful time for Tala's family and also for all of us at the club. We're giving the family all the support we can and will also be offering the same for all our players and staff."
Warriors owner Eric Watson expressed his condolences on Twitter: "So very sad to hear about Tala Mailei. My thoughts are with his family and friends and with the @NZWarriors at this time #RIPTala".
Less than a month ago, Mailei shared a post on Facebook.
It read: "Goals re looked at. New goals added. Motivated to do something that has never been done before. Ain't no use listening to people who don't believe and see what you see. Stepping outta your comfort zone ain't easy, but its a day to day decision that needs to keep being made."