Cunningham was the Magpies' record points scorer and had returned to his local Havelock North club to officially open the refurbished clubrooms on Saturday, just 24 hours before his death.
"He was competitive in everything he did," said Havelock coach Murdoch Paewai.
"He enjoyed running the ball, he didn't like to kick, and if he ran it, he wanted us there for support. We got used to it."
Cunningham scored 998 points in 77 games for Hawke's Bay between 1990 and 1998, and 173 for Central Vikings during the team's merger with Manawatu.
He also turned out for the Hurricanes and Blues in the Super 12 and the New Zealand Maori.
After retiring from rugby with London Irish in 2003 he returned to New Zealand and set up the Jarrod Cunningham Charitable Trust, which raised money for motor neurone treatment.