South Auckland has paid tribute to one of its favourite sons, Jonah Lomu, who tore up local rugby fields before rising to become the sport’s first global superstar.
The Aho Faka Famili, or day of the family, event was held on Saturday in Manukau so local residents could pay their respects to the popular former All Black.
Lomu, 40, died suddenly on November 18 after battling the kidney condition that ended his 63-Test playing career. Of Tongan heritage, he grew up in south Auckland, which has a large Polynesian population.
Lomu’s wife Nadene and their two sons – Brayley, six, and Dhyreille, five, wearing number 11 jerseys and Tongan ta’ovala – greeted his coffin on its arrival.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae was one of those who paid tribute, the New Zealand Herald reports.
“He impressed us with his courage, his humility, his grace under pressure,” Sir Jerry said.
Lomu was born in Pukekohe and spent some of his early childhood in Tonga with family before returning to south Auckland, where he attended Wesley College.
The Tongan community honoured Lomu last Sunday at the Lotofalei’a Tongan Methodist Church, which he attended as a child.
Tens of thousands of people are expected at a public memorial service to be held at Eden Park in Auckland on Monday.
World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset will travel to New Zealand to attend Monday’s memorial, along with representatives from other international rugby unions, present and former All Blacks, and well-known faces from across New Zealand’s sporting community.