Taranaki and Manawatū players have united before their National Provincial Championship clash on Saturday to honour the late Sean Wainui with a powerful rendition of his favourite haka.
Last week, promising Chiefs and Māori All Blacks player Wainui was killed in a car crash near Tauranga at just 25 years old, sending shockwaves through the NZ rugby community.
Wainui began his provincial career with Taranaki, making over 50 appearances between 2014 to 2020, when he signed on with Bay of Plenty.
Before kick-off in Inglewood, players from both sides huddled in the centre of the pitch, gathering around Wainui's No. 13 jersey to observe a moment's silence on his 26th birthday.
Led by Nehe Milner-Skudder, certain players from both sides - with his jersey laid down before them - then unleashed a rousing rendition of Tika Tonu.
Both teams donned black armbands in memory of Wainui, while the Taranaki players also wore red, yellow, and green wristbands and tape - colours he had made his trademark.
After the game, the emotions of a trying week caught up with Taranaki captain Teihorangi Walden, as he dedicated his side's win 47-35 over Manawatu on Saturday to his former teammate.
Walden took a moment to compose himself, as he began his post-match interview with a tribute in Te Reo to his fallen friend and the wife and two children he left behind.
"Emotional week it's been, losing one of our brothers," Walden said. "I just want to send our love to the Wainui whanau. Honestly can't imagine the pain you guys are going through.
Bay of Plenty's match against Northland - originally scheduled for Sunday - has been postponed to avoid clashing with his tangi and allow players to attend.
"We lost one of our brothers too and we'll be there tomorrow to send our brother off," Walden continued.
"Just trying to focus on all the good memories we've got with Seany and I knew he would've wanted us to play today and come away with a win.
"That one was for Seany, on his birthday too."
The match itself was a fitting testimony to Wainui, as Taranaki raced out to an early lead, before trading tries with the Turbos down the stretch in a highly entertaining spectacle.
Dynamic halfback Liam Blyde led the charge for Taranaki, scoring two of his side's six tries late in the first half to send the hosts into the sheds with a 25-7 advantage.
The Turbos came out blazing with a pair of tries to open the second half, as Nehe Milner-Skudder helped sparked a mini-revival that was soon snuffed out by tries to Vereniki Tikoisolomone and Josh Jacomb to secure the Taranaki win.
The victory extends Taranaki's win streak to seven straight games, as the sit comfortably atop the championship as the only team yet to taste defeat.
Taranaki 47 (Liam Blyde 2, Stephen Perofeta, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Josh Jacomb tries, penalty try; Perofeta 3 con, 3 pen) Manawatū 35 (Josiah Maraku, Tima Fainga'anuku, Ed Fidow, Griffin Culver, Drew Wild tries; Stewart Cruden 5 con). HT: 25-7
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