The Wanganui rugby community is in mourning following the death of one of their bright young prospects.
Former Steelform Wanganui representative and Border loose forward Jake Alabaster was found dead on Saturday morning, believed to have passed away in his sleep, age 24.
A product of Whanganui High School who played his senior rugby for Marist before joining the Border club in 2016, Alabaster was taking a gap year from rugby to heal niggling injuries.
He had spent some time overseas and returned recently to take up employment in bee keeping, as he had been working in Northland last week.
It was understood by members of a shocked rugby fraternity spoken to at the weekend that Alabaster may have been stung while working and had a fatal reaction, but this is not confirmed with the autopsy to be done in Auckland.
The news on Saturday morning hit very hard in both the Steelform Wanganui and Whanganui Maori camps, who were preparing to play their respective games on Cooks Gardens, with several of the players being close with the young man.
"A shock. He's got a lot of friends in all the rugby clubs, not just Marist and Border - he was tight with the Kaierau boys too," said Marist club captain Jerome McCrea.
"It was a lot to take on when they told the teams."
Alabaster came up through the local development system - captaining the Wanganui Under 18 squad and playing for the Wanganui Under 20's as a No8.
Ross Williams was his coach last year when Alabaster switched to Border and as a flanker played a key role in them winning the Premier club championship.
"He just had such a large group and range of friends, he was such an easy guy to be around, always had a smile on his face," said Williams.
He described Alabaster as fearless, having no regard for injury and getting himself involved everywhere during a match.
"That's one thing the club will remember - he was an abrasive character on the field. Gave it everything," Williams said.
"He played a really big part of that [Premier final] game, played really well."
Alabaster debuted for the Wanganui senior team in their 2016 mid-year game against the Manawatu Evergreens in Palmerston North, when several veterans were rested, and scored a try despite going into the match with a sore AC joint.
"He played hurt because he knew that's what it was going to take," said Williams.
Alabaster was then named in the Wanganui Development XV at the end of the season, but by then his injuries were mounting up.
All players and Wanganui officials spoken to on Saturday evening had nothing but the highest praise for the young man as a player and team mate.
Both McCrea and Williams were convinced he could have had a long career in the Wanganui jersey.
"A tough kid. He was really athletic as a player, that forestry work he used to do kept him fit and strong," said McCrea.
"I think once he got his shoulder fixed, he was going to get back into it. He could have played Heartland, for sure."
"He was tall enough to be a decent lineout forward, but he was mobile - a turn of speed.
"I thought he had huge potential as a footballer. It's a tragedy."