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Jade Whatuira, of Orepuki, died following a single-car crash near Tuatapere.
Riverton rugby coach and friend of Mr Whatuira, Grant Anderson, said his death would be a ''huge loss'' to the community.
''There are a lot of young people, not just in the rugby scene, but just in the district that he got on with and knew. It's going to be a great loss, definitely.''
Mr Whatuira, who had played for the Riverton Rugby Club through the grades to the senior team, had time for everyone in the community, including the younger rugby players whom he helped to coach, Mr Anderson said.
He was this year awarded the G.B. Robertson trophy for the best senior forward.
''He was an amazing guy, very outgoing and very friendly with a lot of people. He'd do anything for anybody really.
''Everyone's just lost. We just really can't believe what's happened,'' he said.
The club gathered on Monday night to pay tribute to Mr Whatuira, with each member signing a rugby ball to be placed in his coffin, he said.
Jono Bond, who travelled to Riverton from Christchurch yesterday to be with Mr Whatuira's friends and family, said the pair had become best friends in high school.
''A group of us which we called 'the family' would work very hard all week, then when Saturday rolled round, we would head off on adventures,'' he said.
Riverton Rugby Club president David Cleaver remembered Mr Whatuira as a young, talented man who had a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
''He was one of those likeable chaps who got on with everybody.''
''He was short in stature but he had a big heart,'' he said.
Police received word about 6am on Monday that a vehicle had collided with a fence and left the road on State Highway 99, south of Jenkins Rd, near Tuatapere.
The Serious Crash Unit investigation into the crash is ongoing, police said.
Police wanted to hear from anyone who was in contact with Jade on Sunday night who had yet to speak to them.
-Tuatapere police (03) 226-9003.