Former Auckland and Blues rugby player Kurtis Haiu has passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 31.

Haiu, who played 53 times for the Blues between 2006 and 2011, died earlier this afternoon surrounded by his family in hospice care in Manurewa. He leaves behind wife Frieda and two young daughters.

Blues captain Jerome Kaino, who played alongside Haiu, paid tribute to his former teammate.

"Kurtis loved his girls so much and our love and prayers go out to them and the Haiu family," Kaino said. "Kurtis fought such a brave battle to be with them for as long as he could, which was typical of his character.

Kurtis Haiu takes the ball in a line out in March 2009. Photo / Wayne Drought
Kurtis Haiu takes the ball in a line out in March 2009. Photo / Wayne Drought

"I loved playing footy with Kurtis and I will treasure those memories of my Blues brother and pray that he rests in peace."

Haiu was in 2011 diagnosed with a Ewings Sarcoma in his rib, a rare and lethal form of bone cancer. The lock had been suffering rib pain for several months but initially attributed it to a rugby injury.

The pain, however, became more frequent and further tests revealed a lesion on his eighth rib and caused Haiu to take indefinite leave from rugby.

The disease eventually ended his promising career and, after undergoing intensive chemotherapy, he decided to cease conventional treatment due to the extreme side-effects. He also sought alternative treatment in Switzerland but was unable to overcome the disease.

Former teammate and New Zealand sevens player Onosai Auva'a closely stood alongside Kurtis during his fight and said his love and support went out to the Haiu family.

"Kurtis simply refused to accept his illness, which was probably why he continued to battle his disease for so long, and we pray that he is now able to rest in peace," Auva'a said.

Former Blues halfback David Gibson, who grew close to Haiu throughout his ordeal, said, "Kurtis was a unique and special person who loved his family and was a brother to those he played with. On behalf of the players, our thoughts go out to his girls and his family."