Thousands of people filled Norths Rugby Club's home ground in Porirua today to pay tribute to ex-All Black Jerry Collins.

The event coincided with Collins' body being returned to New Zealand.

The gathering at the club followed a march from Waitangirua Mall about 5ks away.

A large crowd, mainly dressed in Norths' blue rugby strip, walked to the ground.

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Mark Conley was among the crowd and paid tribute to the former All Black.

Mr Conley arrived with his wife Marina and son Nathan to show support for a "unique" character and local hero.

"He [Collins] built the club up," he said.

"We struggled in the early days."

Mr Conley said the huge turnout was very impressive.

"He was more than a contributor to the club - he was the face of Norths."

An event organiser told the crowd people had travelled from across Greater Wellington to walk for their favourite rugby star.

"Look at all the support," one walker said. "It's amazing."

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Marchers waved banners, especially Samoan flags and the flags of Wellington's Lions and Hurricanes rugby clubs.

One sign with a photo of Mr Collins and the words "rest in peace" brought a loud cheer from the crowd.

The crowd set off on their memorial walk today. Photo / John Weekes
The crowd set off on their memorial walk today. Photo / John Weekes

North Rugby Club member Iuta Gaualofa said Mr Collins was a huge inspiration to local people, especially aspiring rugby players.

Mr Gaualofa and other Norths members started singing as the walk proceeded down Mungavin Ave.

Tom Katu played rugby against Jerry when they were boys.

Mr Katu said no matter how famous Collins got, he stayed down to earth.

Thousands of marchers arriving at Porirua Park, home of the Norths Rugby Club, during the Jerry Collins Memorial Walk in Porirua. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Thousands of marchers arriving at Porirua Park, home of the Norths Rugby Club, during the Jerry Collins Memorial Walk in Porirua. Photo / Mark Mitchell

As the crowd walked past the Holy Family Catholic Church, where parishioners sang a hymn, Mr Katu recounted some if his favourite Jerry Collins stories.

"He'd go away and come back and still be himself.

"I remember he was working as a dustie."

Mr Katu said Jerry joined the All Blacks, came back and at the end of the season told his mates at the council: "Chuck me on the truck."

As a youth, Jerry always wanted to play above his age grade.The rugby star even paid for some local kids to visit SkyCity for one of the childrens' birthdays.

Mr Katu said Collins was always generous, and he used to jokingly tell the rugby star to "transfer some cash" to his bank account.

When the crowd arrived at the Norths home ground a minute's silence was observed.

The grandstand was packed and crowds surrounded the field.

Wellington, Manu Samoa and Norths veteran Ali Koko addressed the crowd, and Mr Koko thanked them for showing their support.

Collins' Norths jersey was then retired for the season.

Collins and his partner Alana Madill were killed when the car they were in was hit by a bus on a motorway near Beziers, in southern France just over a week ago.

The couple's 4-month-old daughter, Ayla, suffered serious injuries in the crash that killed her parents and remains in a serious condition in a Montpellier hospital in France.