Tributes have been paid to a “much loved and respected” Napier rugby player who died in a car crash earlier this week.

Caleb Baker, 22, died following a serious two-vehicle crash on the Hawke’s Bay Expressway on Friday.

Baker played for the rugby side Napier Technical, also known as the Texans.

In a post to its Facebook page on Saturday, Napier Technical Sports Club shared a statement on behalf of Baker’s whānau.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts and profound sadness that we announce the sudden passing of Caleb Baker, a son cherished by Minky and Janice, a brother beloved of Jada, an uncle adored by Tatum, and a nephew, cousin, and mokopuna loved deeply by the Taurima, Stevens, Baker and Eden whānau,” the statement began.

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

“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.

“E te tau, our beloved Caleb, haere atu rā. Your spirit and light will shine on in our hearts forever. Haere, haere, haere atu rā.”

It comes nearly two years on from the death of another team member – Baker’s best friend Hunter Donghi – who died at age 20 following a short battle with liver cancer.

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

Napier Technical Sports Club said in a statement that they would “now wrestle with the heartbreak and extreme sadness of losing another incredible young man far too soon.”

“Caleb – you were so loved by your mates, your teammates, and your club and we were proud to call you our own,” the post continued.

“We will miss you dearly, and while there is no escape from this grief and sadness, we will celebrate you – the incredible, huge-hearted, big-smiling, loyal, brave, talented, and always a bit cheeky young man – you are loved and you will always, always be remembered.”

Baker’s funeral is expected to take place on Wednesday morning at the Napier Technical clubrooms.