Players struggling with Ottio death after training collapse
PNG Hunters players will be offered counselling after former Canberra Raiders utility Kato Ottio collapsed while training with them and the World Cup representative later died.
Ottio, who had been due to fly to England with Kumuls teammate Wellington Albert on Thursday to join Super League club Widnes, passed away at the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby at 2am on Tuesday after collapsing during a road run on Sunday.
Hunters players held a bedside vigil for the 23-year-old, who had asked to join the session with the Queensland Cup premiers at short notice.
"He called up and said he wanted to come and train with us," Hunters and Kumuls coach Michael Marum told NRL.com.
"We had two groups going and he said he had already spoken to the Kumuls boys, they have a Whatsapp group and they had been communicating. They told him they were running on the road and he said 'I am going to go with these boys' and I thought OK.
"He collapsed and was taken up to the hospital, but they couldn't help him. Wellington didn't train but he went to the hospital. All the players were there. It was emotional.
"He played 32 games for the Hunters before going to the Raiders. Ever since he came to the Hunters he was one of the best kids on and off the field. He was never any trouble, he looked after himself and he was just a good kid."
PNG media outlet Loop posted footage of Marum and the Hunters players, wearing their 2017 grand final T-shirts, at a gathering outside Ottio's family house, from where his body was taken to a funeral home.
The players were clearly distraught and Marum said many of them would need support, including Albert, who is expected to delay his departure for England.
"We will make sure Wellington is in the right mind before he leaves here," Marum said. "Currently his mind is not right so we are trying to give him assistance. Not only Wellington but the other players as well.
"It is going to be difficult because they come from different parts of the country and different customs. For them to be coming back with the right mindset is going to be tough.
"All the players in our squad, we are going to have to do a lot of work with them to make sure they are mentally OK."
Widnes coach Denis Betts said he was yet to speak to Albert but the club would do whatever was necessary to support the former Penrith Panthers prop.
Widnes officials had been furnishing the house Ottio and Albert were going to share when they learned of the sudden death of the Kumuls speedster, who played all four of his country's matches at the 2017 World Cup.
Vikings CEO James Rule had been advised earlier on Monday that Ottio had suffered a "sudden health issue" at training but the club was still expecting him to join them.
"I am still in shock," Betts told NRL.com. "I spoke to him on Saturday and he was excited about coming to play for us.
"It's hard to believe because we had just gotten bedding and other things like crockery today for the place where he and Wellington were going to live.
"To get this news is devastating, and our thoughts are with his family. I only met him once, after the World Cup game [between England and PNG] in Melbourne, but we had spoken on the phone and he was looking forward to joining us."
After being recruited by the Raiders from the PNG Hunters in 2016, Ottio played for their feeder club, Mounties, and scored 29 tries in 23 matches in his first season before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2017.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs assistant coach Steve Antonelli, who was Ottio's mentor at Mounties for the past two seasons, described him as a "soft-natured kid" with huge potential who had been popular among his teammates.
"I spoke to him last week and I told him that going to England was probably the best thing for him, to mature up as a person and as a footballer," Antonelli said.
"He was destined to play NRL until he snapped his ACL. It just took him a bit of time to get over his knee, but he had plenty of talent."
A number of rival NRL clubs had shown interest in Ottio before he signed with Widnes, while new Bulldogs coach Dean Pay had a high opinion of him from their time together with the Raiders.
"When he first got there his English wasn't that flash and he was a bit shy so Dean invited him around for dinner and he sort of grew in confidence after that," Antonelli said.
"He had a cheekiness about him, but not in a disrespectful way. He was very soft-natured, I think that is the best way to describe him, and well liked by everyone. The news has just blown me away, I don't know what to say."
Widnes have set up a fundraising page to help Ottio's family. To donate click here.