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Mt Albert Rugby League committee member Mark McCleay said hearing Peter Griffiths, who was in his late 50s, died this week due to the infection was surreal, and friends were still coming to terms with the news.
The Ministry of Health announced the country's 41st Covid death on Tuesday. He had been in Auckland City Hospital since November 17.
McCleay said everyone expected his friend to walk out of hospital, believing he was strong enough to overcome the infection.
"It's surreal. I'm still coming to grips with him leaving us," he said.
"I thought he was the type of person that would have been able to fight it and come through because he was relatively healthy reffing and coaching.
"I don't think we can be complacent or underestimate the effects that Covid can have, especially if you're not vaccinated."
He had not been vaccinated, McCleay told Stuff.
He said Griffiths contributed at Mt Albert Rugby League for a number of decades from playing in the early days, to managing and coaching teams and becoming a referee.
"It's going to leave a big gap," said McCleay.
"Pete was passionate about rugby league and the community.
"He had a big heart and a real character - you'd always have a bit of a laugh and banter with him. We'll really miss that.
"He really connected with different age groups as well, from youngsters to senior players."
McCleay said club members intended to meet up outside his property and form a guard of honour ahead of his restricted-level funeral tomorrow.
In a post to Facebook, Griffiths' beloved Mt Albert Lions rugby league club paid tribute to by looking back at his time with the club.
"Pete had a real passion not only for Mt Albert Lions but the people and the game."
Griffiths was a member of the club for more than 30 years and wore many hats during that time.
From team manager, committee member, coach, referee and even club president for a year, Griffiths was loved by many in the community.
"Pete had a real passion not only for Mt Albert Lions but the people and the game. Pete took up refereeing over the last three years due to there being a shortage of refs," the tribute read.
"He would roll up his sleeves whenever there was a need and his actions aligned with his talking."
Griffiths also spent his time promoting and supporting. Physical Disability Rugby League NZ. He even represented New Zealand in the 2014 Gold Coast Masters tournament.
"Pete was a big personality and will be sorely missed leaving a huge gap in the game he loved, Rugby League."
Auckland Rugby League also paid tribute, saying due to his significant involvement across the game, the loss of Peter was being felt well beyond his Mt Albert club and throughout the entire rugby league community.
"To Peter's friends and whānau, we would like to extend our thoughts and condolences at this time, he has been a true inspiration within our community," said the association.