Tributes are flowing for Zae Wallace, a promising rugby league player who has passed away after being struck down with the flu.
The New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) described the former secondary school and under-18 representative as a “lovely and cheeky” young man, who had a great sense of humour and a great bunch of friends.
Wallace was struck down with the flu after returning to Auckland this year following a stint with the Gold Coast Titans under-20. The illness progressed to pneumonia and he was in an induced coma for four weeks, says the NZRL.
The Gold Coast Titans have paid tribute to Wallace and his whānau by posting about him on their facebook page.
"He has touched so many lives in his to short time with us."
A givealittle page was also set up to raise funds in support of his "courageous" battle, where one friend wrote, "Champions don't stop, they dust themselves off and push on. This young man is all champion."
Hundreds of people have left messages of support to Wallace's family on Facebook.
Facebook user Tristin Waipouri commented on a post, "Rest in love and paradise Zae. You surely touched our hearts It seems so surreal this sad moment has come so early but you are now in a better place. Never forget love & light fly high. Condolences to the Wallace family prayers & thoughts are with you’s at this very sad time."
Wallace's former coach Sandy Hackett wrote, "I coached this humble unbelievably talented young man in yr 9/10 Touch at Westlake Boys. So so sad to hear this devastating news - taken far too young Zae. Love and thoughts to Zae's whānau."
The NZRL says their deepest condolences go out to Wallace’s family and friends.
"Not only was he a rising league star with exciting skill and potential, he was loved by many. A young talent that will be sorely missed."
Wallace's time on the field
At the beginning of the 2017 season, Wallace signed a contract with the Titans to play in the NYC under-20 competition. He spent that season with the Titans then joined the Burleigh Bears in the Intrust Super Cup.
Playing at halfback and being the youngest member of the squad, Wallace was one of the Akarana Falcons star performers in their National Premiership championship victory in 2016. That same year he was named Auckland Rugby League’s College Player of the Year.
He won selection following a standout season with the Mt Albert Lions in Auckland’s Fox Premier Rugby League Competition. He had returned to New Zealand to play with the Northcote Tigers and had only played one game when he became ill.