Raiders pay tribute to Kato Ottio
Canberra Raiders players and staff will pay tribute to former teammate Kato Ottio at a memorial service on Thursday, while the club is considering fund-raising initiatives to provide financial support for his family in Papua New Guinea.
Ottio, who spent the past two seasons with the Raiders, collapsed during a training session in Port Moresby on Sunday and died at 2am on Tuesday.
His family agreed on Wednesday for a post-mortem to be conducted to determine the exact cause of death of the 23-year-old World Cup representative, who had been due to fly to England on Thursday with Kumuls teammate Wellington Albert to join the Widnes Vikings.
Albert has delayed his departure to attend Ottio's funeral, which will be held at 10am on Friday at the Sioni Kami Memorial Church at 5 Mile in Port Moresby. Ottio will be buried later on Friday at the 9 Mile cemetery, outside of Port Moresby.
Albert is now expected to arrive in the United Kingdom late next week and Widnes CEO James Rule said the club's players, supporters and coaching team would do everything possible to help him settle in the community.
Widnes will hold a minute's silence in memory of Ottio before their pre-season trial against Whitehaven on Friday night, while proceeds from the sale of specially produced KO18 T-shirts will go to his family.
The Vikings have also launched an online fund-raising scheme for fans to make donations and the club will make its own contribution.
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Raiders officials are discussing ways the club and their supporters can assist Ottio's mother and siblings as he had been the major income earner for the family following the death of his father a decade ago.
The Raiders have organised a memorial service at Holy Trinity Church in Curtin, ACT at 7.30am on Thursday, which will be attended by Ottio's former teammates and the club's staff.
"The boys are all devastated by the news yesterday about Kato," Raiders forward Elliott Whitehead said. "I don't think there was a day go by when he didn't have a smile on his face.
"He was very passionate about his rugby league and I believe he would have done a great job over in Super League for Widnes Vikings.
"It's disappointing that he never got that chance but all the boys have stuck together strong and we are going to have a service for him at the church and we will send our prayers tomorrow back to his family in PNG."
Centre Michael Oldfield, who regularly played alongside Ottio for Raiders' feeder team, Mounties, in the NSW Cup, said the players wanted to honour him and his family.
"Everyone is dealing with it differently and tomorrow we are going to have a day to remember him," Oldfield said.
"We have got a service in the morning and I think we will come together as a group and figure out a way to show our support for his family and friends back home.
"He has made a big impact among the players and the staff, and he deserves recognition for that and he needs to be remembered so we will do our best to do that."
Former Raiders fullback Zac Santo, who lived with Ottio in Canberra, has been given time off by the New Zealand Warriors, while the PNG Hunters have suspended training as their players deal with the death of a former teammate at their session on Sunday.
The Papua New Guinea Rugby League has offered to pay for Ottio's funeral costs, even though he was not a member of the Hunters' current squad and contacted coach Michael Marum at short notice about attending training last Sunday.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister and Minister for Sports, Peter O'Neill, offered the nation's condolences to Ottio's family and former teammates, and urged caution over speculation about the cause of his death.
"It is with shock and great sadness that we have learned of the death of Kato Ottio," he said in a statement. "I extend the condolences of the people of our nation to the family and teammates of the late Kato Ottio, as we share your grief.
"The passing of someone so young, so fit and with so much promise, is hard to come to terms with.
"It was only a matter of weeks ago that he proudly wore the colours of Papua New Guinea on the world stage as a Kumul. We remember his courage and tenacity as rugby league star, and as an all-round athlete.
"The nation will learn more of the health conditions that took the life of the late Kato Ottio. We must be patient and as we mourn this sudden passing, and commemorate the life of an outstanding Papua New Guinean."
Meanwhile, the PNG rugby league community has been further rocked by the loss of Kumuls great and former chairman of selectors David Tinemau, who died after a long illness at the age of 63.