A Taranaki league player who died in the middle of a game in Australia has been described as "a star" of the family by his grieving sister.

Tory Brunning, 22, was playing for his team the Dapto Canaries on Saturday, as part of the Illawarra Rugby League in New South Wales.

However, the promising young player from Waitara became ill at halftime while in the team sheds.

After the game ended his condition deteriorated and doctors and paramedics began working on him frantically. He did not respond to repeated attempts to revive him.

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Brunning's devastated sister Kourtney Waitarehu said he was "a star in this family".

"[He was] doing so well," she said, speaking on behalf of his brothers Mase, Jordan, Kyle, and Solomon, and sister Kaya-Jade.

"A piece of our heart has been taken from us all and may he rest in our lord's arms.

"I can't say much but a piece of our hearts has gone. We are surely broken."

A Givealittle page has been set up to help the family bring Brunning home to Waitara.

As of this morning nearly $10,000 had been raised.

His aunty Mary Brunning said her nephew was "our shining star, in the prime of his life".

"He leaves behind many heartbroken family and friends, but we take comfort in knowing that Tory died doing what he loved - playing rugby league."

Brunning moved to Australia at 15 to pursue his dream of playing league, after playing for the Waitara Bears from 5, and representing Taranaki at age group level.

"Anyone who knew Tory knew that he had the determination and skill to succeed," his aunty said.

Brunning attended Illawarra Sports High School and was selected to play in the Australian Combined High Schools team and the New South Wales schoolboys team.

Brunning's uncle Troy Hunt said the family and Waitara community were struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss.

"It is dumbfounding. He was doing so well, enjoying his life, experiencing everything he could.

"He is from a small town, but has taken every opportunity."

Brunning had been in a relationship with his "high school sweetheart" Zoe for the past six years, Hunt said.

"To his partner Zoe, he was a loving, caring and considerate man. They had met at high school, at 16. It was a fairytale relationship, childhood sweethearts. They had moved in together, were planning their futures together.

"Our family is really feeling for her, she is a beautiful young woman."

Despite living in Australia, he was well-known and loved in the Waitara community, Hunt said.

"To his younger cousins he was the one who would spend time in the front yard, kicking a ball around.

"To his older cousins he was the guy with the hearty, cheesy grin. To his uncles and aunties, he was a really polite nephew, and would give you time to sit and talk.

"To his teammates, he was loyal, a hard trainer and a fearsome competitor - a very good man to have on your side."

Brunning had been struck down with glandular fever at 18, and was bedridden for much of the year.

"That took a toll on him. But how he has got back up to playing league at such a high level is testament to him.

"And he took that off the field into his career too. He was in the final year of his industrial electrician apprenticeship, and was looking forward to going into that trade."

The family was at a loss as to how Brunning died, Hunt said.

"It is a total mystery to us. All we know is he left the field, wasn't feeling good, received some treatment from a doctor but deteriorated."

Brunning had developed a strong community in Australia, Hunt said.

"He has another family over there, and became an integral part of the community. They will all be grieving for him now too."

Illawarra District Rugby League general manager Chris Bannerman said it was a "terrible tragedy".

"We extend our sympathies to his family and friends, and everyone who was involved yesterday at the venue. It was a tragedy no family should have to go through – especially on the eve of Mother's Day."

The National Rugby League and Country Rugby League had been working together to support players from both clubs.

A service for Brunning would be held in Wollongong, before he was brought home to Waitara.