In life, he was a huge presence on the rugby field - both locally and internationally. And when people speak of him, they use the words "great'' and "generous".

So it seems only fitting that the headstone belonging to All Black great Jonah Lomu be just as huge and just as generous.

Family and friends of the rugby legend gathered this afternoon at the Manukau Memorial Gardens cemetery, in South Auckland, to unveil a headstone at his grave.

The unveiling of Jonah Lomu's headstone at Manukau Memorial Gardens today. Photo / Doug Sherring
The unveiling of Jonah Lomu's headstone at Manukau Memorial Gardens today. Photo / Doug Sherring

Black and white balloons with the number 11 - paying tribute to his jersey number - were tied down nearby. Other balloons had the words: "Love You Dad.''

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Many close friends of Lomu, who died aged 40 in 2015, were there, including former All Blacks players Eric Rush, Josh Kronfeld and Kevin Senio. Lomu's former manager, Phil Kingsley-Jones, was also there.

Lomu's young sons, Brayley, 10, and Dhyreille, 9, hugged their mum Nadene as she cried softly during parts of the ceremony, which included tributes from friends and family as well as songs sung graveside.

Eldest son Brayley's left eyebrow appeared to have the number 11 shaved into it - much like his dad used to do.

The youngster brought tears among guests when he struggled to give a prepared speech.

He thanked everyone for coming, before crying into his mother's arms.

The two boys helped their mum remove fine mats and tapa cloth to reveal a giant black marble headstone bearing the words: "Families can be together forever.''

Nadene Lomu with her sons Dhyreille (left) and Brayley. Photo / Doug Sherring
Nadene Lomu with her sons Dhyreille (left) and Brayley. Photo / Doug Sherring

The epitaph paid tribute to Jonah Tali Lomu: Beloved husband, best friend and eternal companion to Nadene Lomu, loved and missed daddy of Brayley and Dhyreille and son of Semisi and Hepi.

Nadene Lomu thanked those who attended the service and acknowledged that the unveiling was at very short notice. She was happy representatives from all sides of the extended family could make it.

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"It really does mean a lot to me,'' she said.

"The headstone - we really wanted to pay tribute to Jonah. We wanted something fitting and although there couldn't be anything big enough for him, it was the best we could do to reflect the man that he will always be."

In recent days there were reports some of Lomu's family members had been upset at the last minute invitation to the ceremony.

Brayley Lomu, left, seen here consoled by his mother Nadene, brought tears to guests as he struggled to give a prepared speech. Photo / Doug Sherring
Brayley Lomu, left, seen here consoled by his mother Nadene, brought tears to guests as he struggled to give a prepared speech. Photo / Doug Sherring

Lomu's brother John and an aunt who had travelled from Australia were among members of the Lomu family in attendance.

His mother Hepi missed the ceremony as she flew to Fiji on Friday on a pre-arranged trip before she knew of plans of the unveiling.

Earlier, a prayer was said before John Lomu gave a brief speech.

He paused, seemingly gathering himself, before saying: "It's time to be together as a family. Thank you everyone for being here.''

Family friend Sela Alo paid tribute to a young man with a generous spirit.

"It's a beautiful occasion. We should... celebrate it. No matter what walk of life you come from, we should celebrate that.''

Former Sevens and All Black player Eric Rush (middle) at Jonah Lomu's headstone unveiling today. Photo / Doug Sherring
Former Sevens and All Black player Eric Rush (middle) at Jonah Lomu's headstone unveiling today. Photo / Doug Sherring

Referring to the clouds above, Alo got laughs from the crowd when he said: "Jo-jo, you could've at least put some sun out, bro!''

Sevens legend Rush also shared a few jokes, saying of his old mate: "He had an impact on a lot of people. Josh Kronfeld is here - he had a lot of impacts.''

Rush said many of them often forgot just how great a rugby player Lomu was, acknowledging many of the impossible tries he used to score.

"You don't see those tries today,'' he said.

Rush also acknowledged two other rugby greats now lying at rest nearby - former Manu Samoa great Peter Fatialofa and former All Black Dylan Mika, who died in March aged 45.

Former chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, Trevor Gregory, travelled specifically to be at the ceremony, where he said he considered Lomu to be a close personal friend.

Gregory spoke of his retirement and about getting a shock at seeing Lomu walking towards him at a special event.

"I said: 'Jonah, I can't believe it. Who is me?' [sic].

"He said: 'I wouldn't miss it for the world'. So I'm here - and I wouldn't miss this for the world,'' Gregory said.

"And I miss him."

Gregory said Lomu was and remains the only rugby player to receive worldwide fame.

"We've all lost someone who was special in our lives. But he will always be in our hearts forever. Rest in peace.''

The legendary All Black died on November 18, 2015, of a heart attack following a long battle with kidney failure.