Napier rugby club grieves second death of a young player in two years

Caleb Baker "could lighten any mood and light up any room", his former rugby teammates said. Photo / NZME

The family of a young Hawke’s Bay man say they were “shattered into a thousand pieces” by his sudden death in a car crash.

Caleb Baker, 22, died in a four-vehicle crash on the Hawke’s Bay Expressway on Friday morning.

Grieving family members and former rugby colleagues remembered Baker as a promising sportsman with a great sense of humour and a big heart.

His rugby side Napier Technical lost another player, Hunter Donghi, two years ago, and his teammates told the Herald they took some heart in knowing the two young men were together again, “watching out for us all”.

A family spokeswoman said Baker had grown up in Hawke’s Bay and later moved to Australia before coming back home.

“A life shorter than it should have been, filled with hunting, rugby and always the life of the party. He will be missed by whānau near and wide,” she said in a statement.

His whānau, including parents Minky and Janice, paid tribute to him on Napier Technical’s Facebook page yesterday.

“Caleb’s infectious laughter, playful charm, big heart and big smile warmed the hearts of everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him,” the whānau wrote.

“His loss has shattered us into a thousand pieces, and we thank you all for the messages, aroha and support during this incredibly challenging time.”

Caleb Baker played the for rugby side Napier Technical, also known as the Texans. The club's former president said he brought "a great culture" to the Colts team.

Former club president and Colts team manager Jamie Bryant, who was a mentor to Baker, described him as a “good bugger”.

“Within the team, all the boys enjoyed his company and he added great culture to the Colts, bringing a lot of humour, and [he] was bloody cheeky, the life of the party.

“He was an honest and straight-up young man. He was a loving and a true mate and would do anything for [others].

“He will leave a huge gap in our club, and we will just miss him so much.”

Baker was best friends with Donghi, a Napier Tech player who died in March 2022 aged 20, just two months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer.

Baker had given Donghi his “unwavering commitment” during his short illness, the club said.

“We now wrestle with the heartbreak and extreme sadness of losing another incredible young man far too soon.”

Hunter Donghi, who also played for Napier Tech, died from liver cancer in 2022. Baker had supported him in his final months, the club said.

“Caleb was the mate who always brought the good energy,” his teammate Tāne Hiha said, speaking on behalf of his friends and teammates.

“His laugh was huge, and his smile was infectious. He could lighten any mood and light up any room. We have lost two brothers now, two of the best people we know, but we take heart in knowing Hunter and Caleb will be together and watching out for us all.”

Baker’s funeral will be held at the Napier Technical clubrooms in Marewa on Wednesday.

- Additional reporting by Vita Molyneux.