A man who died trying to save his two sons after they fell from a wharf on the NSW south coast was a great sportsman, a bit adventurous and “ecstatic” about his kids, his family says.

Shane O’Neill, a 28-year-old butcher, dived into dark, choppy waters and tried in vain to save his sons, Riley, four, and 15-month-old Travis, after the boys fell from the wharf at Tathra, near Bega, on Tuesday night.

He had been due to marry his long-time love Stacey Lambert, the mother of his children, in March.

O’Neill’s parents Phil and Linda said “nothing would be the same” after their son’s death, and “they should be planning a wedding, not a funeral”.

The family would do everything they could to support Lambert, Phil O’Neill said.

“She’s the best daughter-in-law,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“We love her like she’s our own. She’ll always be a part of the family and she knows that.”

O’Neill’s sister Lisa Kennedy said it was love at first sight between Ms Lambert and her brother.

“They went to a party and she had her eye on him straight away,” Mrs Kennedy said.

“She told her mother that he was the man she was going to marry.”

Shane O’Neill was described as a great sportsman by his father, with rugby league and the South Sydney Rabbitohs his great passion.

“He was into sports. He was a great squash player and a brilliant footy player. He represented the school at swimming, football and squash,” Mr O’Neill said.

Linda O’Neill said her son loved the outdoors, and was always a bit of a daredevil.

“When he was a young fella he was a little bit shy, but he always had an adventurous streak,” she said.

“He was also a daredevil, a sportsman and very family-oriented.”

O’Neill was hoping to have another child after getting married to Lambeth, his father said.

“Shane was so proud when the boys were born,” he said.

“He was ecstatic.”

The funeral for Shane, Riley and Travis will be held at 11am (AEDT) next Wednesday at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Bega.