A lone voice began a grief-stricken and strained melody for a lost son, but by the end of the first verse hundreds had joined in a rousing farewell for Tala Mailei.
Dressed in white in a stark contrast to the congregation’s black attire, Mailei’s mother Mulipola Omai Mailei struggled to compose herself through a tribute to her son, spoken solely in Samoan.
Finishing her eulogy, she embarked on a solo of a traditional Samoan funeral song, but the church was soon filled with the voices of those rallying around her.
The 17-year-old rising star of New Zealand rugby league was farewelled in a huge service in Christchurch on Tuesday, after he was found dead in Christchurch on Boxing Day.
Mourners queued in their droves to enter the church, and during the service many were forced to listen outside as the hundreds of well-wishers overflowed capacity.
While many paid tribute to Mailei’s “huge smile” and “affable” personality during the service, it was his love for sport that shone through.
Mailei had been training with the Warriors’ wider under-20 squad since November, after being selected from hundreds of hopefuls at the club’s annual open NYC trial in Auckland.
A number of Warriors senior coaching staff sat front and centre at the service.
Older brother Vaa Mailei, who plays professional rugby in Australia, said the amount of people overflowing the church was a testament to “how much impact he had”.
“He was always happy – that smile, it got everyone,” he said.