FORMER All Blacks teammate Josh Kronfeld and ex-New Zealand coach Graham Henry have led the tributes to Jonah Lomu, who has died aged 40.
Kronfeld, who played beside Lomu in the All Blacks' World Cup final team of 1995, says he has been left shocked and devastated by the news of Lomu's death in Auckland yesterday after seeing him in good spirits a matter of weeks ago, despite Lomu's running battle with kidney disease.
Kronfeld said he and Lomu - who used to be "movie partners" whenever they went on tour with the All Blacks - bumped into each other a month before the start of New Zealand's successful Rugby World Cup defence in England recently.
"Obviously Jonah has had a battle with kidney issues in recent years, but it's nevertheless shocking to hear of what's happened. I'm devastated," he said.
"We saw each other just before the World Cup. He was talking very positively about his dialysis. He seemed okay.
"He was rugby's first superstar, the whole world will feel this." Kronfeld said the world has lost a man who transcended their sport.
"Jonah was rugby's first superstar. While there were big names before him like Sir Colin Meads, Jonah's impact was felt so widely around the world. He created a brand which will live on," he said.
"He was a monster of a rugby player, but off the field, he was as warm as anyone you could ever meet."
Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, who coached Lomu in the champion Blues sides of 1996 and 1997, recalls his impact during the formative years of professional rugby.
"We played a pre-season game in 1996, in Greymouth of all places, against the Highlanders," he said. "There were probably 5000 people watching the game. After the game there were 4500 people around Jonah and 500 around the rest - and there were players like Zinzan Brooke and Fitzy (Sean Fitzpatrick) and all those sort of guys in the team.
"There were a lot of well-established international footballers but here was this guy who was just sensational and everybody wanted a piece of him."
Henry marvelled at Lomu's transition from shy teenager to an articulate, sought-after public speaker. "He was a very shy boy. He would hardly say a couple of sentences.
"He was educated through the game to a large extent. In recent times he had become a highly sought-after ambassador for the game. He spoke exceptionally well. I remember hearing him speak at a couple of functions and being very, very impressed.
"It is just so sad, I saw him at the World Cup and he looked so well. It's just a hell of a shock."
- With APNZ
Full name Jonah Tali Lomu
Born: May 12, 1975, Auckland
All Blacks career: 1994-2002
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