18 Nov 2015

Tributes paid to rugby's 'first superstar'

6:27 pm on 18 November 2015

Tributes are flowing for All Blacks great Jonah Lomu, whose sudden death has left the rugby world in shock.

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Jonah and Nadene Lomu in March. Photo: Supplied

His wife Nadene Lomu said it was a "devastating loss for our family" as tributes flowed for her husband.

John Mayhew, Lomu's doctor and long-time family friend, spoke to RNZ shortly after leaving the rugby great's home this afternoon in Auckland.

"It's a terrible time for everyone - they're handling it as well as can be anticipated.

"He had always been a great athlete, he's always been a good person - his personal values are good - and he went the extra mile with the fans. He was someone who was very hard to criticise.

"A heart of gold, a great person, a great family man."

Rugby community speaks out

Lomu's former All Black and Hurricanes team mate Tana Umaga said there would never be another man like the world famous number 11.

He was a unique man both on and off the pitch, Umaga said. "There was no one like him. To be honest, there probably never will be."

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said everyone was shocked and deeply saddened at Lomu's death.

"He was probably the game's first superstar," he told a press conference.

Former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains, who first selected Lomu, said the player with legendary speed helped change rugby.

"The man was 118kg. In those days the average wing probably weighed about 90kg. So they just weren't used to dealing with players of this size and power whereas today they are," he said.

"In those days he was a freak."

Former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie, who coached Lomu during his time at the Hurricanes, said Lomu was bigger than the game.

Lomu had a kidney transplant in 2004, and Mourie said he could only imagine what he would have been like if he had not had to battle illness.

"Jonah was more than a great All Black. I think in terms of the game of rugby, he was an absolute icon anywhere you go in the world.

"I think Jonah was ... bigger than the game and known outside of the game."

Former All Blacks midfielder Alama Ieremia made his test debut in 1994. the same year as Lomu.

"He redefined what wing play was all about. Off the field he was a very gentle person and very genuine Islander.

"He had a tough upbringing but for me it's just his humour and humility that I will miss the most."

Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick was among those leading the tributes from All Blacks past and present.

Rugby commentator Keith Quinn said Lomu's death was a "total shock".

Lomu's performance in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when he left player after player in his wake during the All Blacks defeat of England in the semi-final, changed the role of the winger in international rugby, Quinn said.

"Those four tries he scored that day in the semi-final against England were taken with such athleticism, power and grace. The world had never seen a player go from being big enough to be a forward, while also fast enough to be unique as a back. And that's a legacy that Jonah will leave on the rugby field."

Lomu's reach was such that tributes flowed from beyond the rugby world.

Support from Parliament

Sport and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman moved a notice in Parliament this afternoon to pay tribute to Lomu, while Silver Fern Maria Tutaia tweeted there would never be anything or anyone quite like him.

Prime Minister John Key tweeted he was "deeply saddened" by Lomu's death and the "thoughts of the entire country are with his family", while rugby players worldwide joined the outpouring of grief.

Mr Key is currently at the APEC Summit in the Philippines, but said in a statement Lomu was an inspirational athlete who was generally regarded as the first true global superstar of rugby union.

He caught up with Mr Lomu and his wife Nadene in London a few weeks ago and he was in good spirits, Mr Key said.

Mr Lomu was not only a great ambassador for rugby, but for New Zealand, and made a significant contribution through his various charities, he said.

Tongans remember Lomu

Tonga Sports Minister Fe'ao Vakata said Lomu brought great pride to the islands, where people had named their children after him and everybody claimed to be related to him.

The Tongan government would discuss how to mark his death at a meeting on Friday.

Jon Salinger tweeted a picture of Lomu and fellow former All Black the late Jerry Collins, who died in a car crash earlier this year.

Lomu was patron of the Kidney Kids charity and chief executive Keith Mackenzie said his death was tragic.

"Jonah has been with us for a number of years, and we are so deeply shocked. We feel for Nadene, his wife, and his two little boys.

"A week or two ago, he was so full of life, enjoying the Rugby World Cup.

"He never had a bad word about anybody. He was warm, compassionate, and somebody who, through his own illness which lasted about 15 years, has been a very tolerant person."

Steven Hargreaves, principal of Lomu's old high school Wesley College, said staff and students were saddened and subdued by the news of his death.

Jonah Lomu and his family

Jonah Lomu and his family Photo: Facebook

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