Former Blues rugby player Kurtis Haiu, who died after a prolonged battle with cancer, always put his family's needs first, even in his final months, says his grieving wife.

Haiu, who played 53 games for the Blues between 2006 and 2011, died on Wednesday, aged 31. He was surrounded by his family in hospice care in Manurewa.

A celebration service will be held for him today before his funeral on Tuesday.

He leaves behind wife Frieda and daughters Aaliyah, 8, and Sienna, 6.


Frieda told the Herald on Sunday he was a "proud father and loving husband".

"Kurtis was humble, respectful, a man of integrity. He stood up for what he believed in and protected and provided for those he loved.

"Everything he did was for us. He made sure our needs were put first, even in his final months. His strong will made us feel safe and always hopeful."

Kurtis' brother, Leon Haiu, said his tenacity inspired the whole family.

"The doctors said he should have technically died two to three weeks ago but his sheer willpower kept him alive."

Haiu was diagnosed in 2011 with 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. Haiu then took indefinite leave from rugby.

The disease eventually ended his promising career and, after undergoing intensive chemotherapy, he decided to cease conventional treatment because of the extreme side effects.

He also sought alternative treatment in Switzerland but was unable to overcome the disease.

"Stopping playing rugby was really hard for him," Leon said.

"It was more than a job to him; it was a huge part of his life. He wanted to look at playing again if the treatment worked."

Kurtis' father was from Uvea, a small island west of Samoa, and Kurtis was "deeply proud" of his heritage.

The family was finding his death tough but was pleased he was no longer in pain.

"He was a hard man of days gone by, and a man of few words. Not everyone saw that he was also a deeply loyal and faithful person.

"He was also really humble. Whenever he'd make teams or did something awesome, we'd find out through someone else."

A celebration service with music and tributes is being held at his former school, Sacred Heart College, today at 4pm and a Catholic mass will be held at the college at noon on Tuesday. Both are open to the public.