DEVASTATED family, friends and sportspeople gathered at the Auckland home of Jonah Lomu after news of his death rippled around the world.
The 40-year-old husband, father and global sports superstar suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after returning from a post-World Cup break with his family in Dubai and died at his Epsom home early yesterday.
All Black Ma'a Nonu visited Lomu's house this morning to pay his respects. He entered the home - outside which well-wishers had left pink camellia blossoms - dressed in a hoodie and wearing shades.
Visibly upset relatives spoke of the sudden death, unexpected despite Lomu's lengthy battle with rare kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome.
He had reportedly been in "reasonably good health" in recent months. His passing shocked sports fans and has drawn tributes from friends, sports stars, celebrities and politicians around the world.
Lomu's wife, Nadene, said it was a "traumatic time" for her family, especially the couple's young sons, Brayley, 6, and Dhyreille, 5.
"It is with great sadness that I must announce my dear husband Jonah Lomu died last night," she said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
"As you can imagine this is a devastating loss for our family."
Mrs Lomu requested privacy for herself and children, but other family members spoke about their loss.
Nehoa Lomu first heard about his younger brother's death on the radio, and said their mother, Hepi, was upset "like any mother would be". "What happened, happened. But we are very proud of my brother and what he did for New Zealand and also Tonga."
NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said it was an "incredibly sad day" and NZ Rugby was working to support Lomu's loved ones. "There's a lot now to obviously work through but we should reflect on the amazing contribution Jonah made," he said.
A constant stream of visitors trailed to the Lomu residence yesterday - including former All Blacks Michael Jones, Eroni Clarke and Ofisa Junior Tonu'u - to pay tribute to their former teammate and his family.
Many brought flowers and wore dark clothing, and gathered to farewell a silver hearse as it left the property in the late afternoon.
Former long-time All Blacks doctor John "Doc" Mayhew told the Herald that Lomu's well-known kidney issues would inevitably have contributed to his heart stopping.
Dr Mayhew said people with chronic kidney disease had a higher chance of heart issues.
The former wing's kidney problem began to make itself apparent even when he was making global headlines steamrolling England into submission at the 1995 Rugby World Cup and afterwards.
A 2004 transplant - using a kidney donated by The Hits radio host Grant Kereama - helped him for 7 years, but his body rejected the replacement organ in 2011 and he went on a waiting list for another.
Kereama is understood to be extremely upset by Lomu's death.
He has never spoken publicly of his relationship with Lomu but about 2pm he posted on Facebook: "Devastated ... I love you, my brother. Xxxx"
Co-host Polly Gillespie, who was married to Kereama at the time, said her heart was "smashed".
"Grant and I loved you like our own brother, and life without you already hurts so badly."
Lomu spent the past couple of months touring Britain with his family for the Rugby World Cup, where many who saw him marvelled at his apparent good health.
Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry said: "I saw him at the World Cup and he looked so well. It's just a hell of a shock."
However, the star required treatment throughout the trip. "By the end of it I'll have learnt the ins and outs of every clinic in the country," he joked to the Telegraph.
"I am thankful that I have a beautiful wife, and the kids are here. Nadene makes sure that my family stays together. She is my manager, my wife, my best friend and my boss!"
At Lomu's former high school, Wesley College, near Pukekohe, an assembly was held in his honour.
Outside NZ Rugby headquarters in Wellington, the All Blacks and NZ flags were lowered to half-mast.
After hearing the news, victorious World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw paid tribute to his former teammate on social media.
"I still can't believe the sad news today," McCaw posted on Facebook. "Jonah was an incredible rugby player and a top bloke. My thoughts are with his family. Rest in peace mate."
Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark noted Lomu's death on Twitter, posting an image of the winger in full flight.
"RIP #NewZealand @AllBlacks rugby great Jonah Lomu who died 2day: legend. Sincere sympathies to family."
A tweet from Irish Rugby also paid respect.
"A game changer, a legend, an All Black. Our prayers are with family & friends of @JONAHTALILOMU @AllBlacks #RIPJonah."
English rugby great Lewis Moody posted: "Can't believe the news that #JonahLomu has died. Such a sad day. He single handedly changed the game of rugby. Rugby's 1st global super star."
And former England skipper Will Carling posted a selfie of him and Lomu at Twickenham.
"Just before RWC Final with the great man. Rest easy Legend. Gentle off the field, awesome & unstoppable on it."
Former Springbok star Joost van der Westhuizen wrote of his heartbreak over the news.
"Difficult to write with eyes full of tears on my eye tracker. Thank you for EVERYTHING Jonah. RIP my dear friend!," he tweeted.
• Phil Kingsley Jones, Lomu's former manager: "One of the most wonderful young men I have ever known and who was like a son to me, has been taken from us. The world will be poorer without him."
• Chris Grinter, former coach at Wesley College: "Physically he was a wonderful athlete. It was a thrill to watch him make the most of this. I'll remember him as an immense talent, a superb athlete who transformed rugby ... no one replaced Jonah's position and the magic he conveyed."
• Tana Umaga, Blues head coach: "There's never been another Jonah Lomu, has there? There was no one like him. To be honest there probably never will be."
• Prime Minister John Key: "He was someone that knew his heritage and history well ... but absolutely loved the All Black jersey and loved the interaction he had with the New Zealand public."
• Labour leader Andrew Little: "He was the beginning of the age of professional rugby ... he epitomised that All Black image of unstoppability."
• Len Brown, Auckland mayor: "He was an icon who New Zealanders from every walk of life respected, both for his prowess on the rugby field and for the way that he dealt with his health issues."
• Mana 'Otai, Tonga Rugby coach: "He epitomises what it was about: It doesn't matter where you come from or how you start in life but what you make of it. ... For Tonga, as a small island nation, that's something Jonah has provided for us, the worldwide knowledge of where the island is in the Pacific."
- NZ Herald
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