A rising rugby star who left his mark on several clubs around the country has died in Fiji after being struck down by a sudden illness.
Poverty Bay rugby player Isaia Vuki lost his battle with the illness in the early hours of yesterday morning. He was 24.
Vuki - nicknamed Izzy or Isa by friends - became a force to be reckoned with as he came up through the rugby ranks as a student at West Auckland's Kelston Boys' High before playing in the North Harbour under 20s representative team as well as its senior Sevens squad.
He also played at the Northland Fijian Sevens Tournament held in Whangarei in 2013 and later went on to represent the Marist Club in Whakatane.
In 2016, he turned out for the Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union after being introduced to the club by coach Mutu Ngarimu.
"Everyone's pretty shocked and devastated to hear the news," Ngarimu told the Herald.
"We're still not too sure what's happened, but it's come as a shock to a lot of the players and people who were involved with him - coaches and our management team back in 2016 and even last year when he was with the Poverty Bay Heartland team.
"We're still trying to come to grips with it."
That 2016 season proved to be a good one for the young player; who was named Best Back and became the top points scorer that season.
"His ferocious tackling was also a feature as well as his kicking and running ability.''
Ngarimu said he was first told about Vuki - who played in the number 10 jersey, as well as at fullback - while he was playing in Whakatane.
"As soon as we saw him, we knew he was a very talented player.
"Definitely a player with a huge amount of potential and ability. He was one of those guys who could've moved to a province and made that representative team as well. A very talented man."
Several rugby clubs, schools and the NZ Fiji School Rugby Sevens group have all acknowledged Vuki's passing in tributes on their websites.
Kelston Boys' High said in his last year, in 2012, Vuki made a lasting impression on teachers, staff and rugby coaches.
"He demonstrated his rugby talents and speed on the rugby field. He was a popular member of the international student body, with his infectious smile and comic personality.
"Many fond memories will be remembered and held close to our hearts. Our thoughts [and] prayers are with Isaia's family at this time.''
Ngarimu paid tribute to a young man who was as much a character off the field as he was on.
"He was very funny and a likeable guy who fit straight into the environment we had here.
"He definitely left a strong influence on the people not only in Whakatane and the Bay of Plenty, but in Gisborne, in the Heartland competition itself - a lot of people knew who he was - and that was the vehicle that rugby provided for him."