Warriors captain Steve Price fought back tears today, as he spoke of the anguish over teammate Sonny Fai, missing after disappearing in the surf at a beach on Auckland's west coast on Sunday.
Fai, 20, had gone to the aid of his younger brother who was caught in a rip at Bethells Beach, but got caught himself and is believed to have been swept out to sea.
Authorities believe there is no hope he will be found alive, but members of Fai's family and Price and his teammates are still holding on to a slender hope he will be found alive.
"We're just feeling our way and we've never been in a situation like this before," Price told a press conference today.
"Everyone's coping as best they can. We're not giving up, and to us it isn't a tragedy yet. We're still hopeful he's going to be found," he said, admitting that he was finding the situation difficult to cope with.
"It's a really tough time. We didn't train yesterday, we went out to the beach to help with the search. We thought it was very important for everybody to support and respect the family and try and look for Sonny."
The Warriors had a brief training session today and then resumed their search at the beach for Fai, who seemed destined to be a rugby league star.
"We just had a short training session this morning which went well. It wasn't a normal atmosphere, but we're just trying to get through it," Price said.
Price spoke in the present tense about Fai, reflecting the hope that somehow he was still alive.
"He is very infectious, very enthusiastic. He's a fantastic athlete and trains very hard.
"He's got a fantastic attitude, just a guy you love being around. Whether it's the under 20s or the first grade squad, he has a huge impact on everybody. We absolutely love him, and we're all really sad but still hopeful that things will turn out good for everyone," he said.
Price said he had never seen a player with a physique as striking as Fai's. "He's one of the quickest and strongest in the club," Price said.
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary agreed it was a new and difficult situation, and they were just playing it by ear.
"There's not much you can do but I think going out to the beach yesterday helped," he said.
"It's just very sad. Sonny was just a really popular player at our club. He had such an effervescent personality and was always fun to be around. Our thoughts go out to his family and their great loss.
"Sonny had physical gifts which were really rare. He was incredibly strong and really fast. His skills were developing and he had so much to look forward to. We're just trying to come to grips with the fact that he's not around, and really feeling for the family," Cleary said.
He said Sonny's sister, Lalelei Fai, was at the beach with Warriors football director John Hart again this morning.
The National Rugby League has offered grief counselling services for Fai's family and friends and the Warriors club.
This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald