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Raiders lead Lions' moving tribute for fallen PNG teammate

The entire village of former PNG international Kato Ottio has turned out to welcome his old Raiders teammates and a Great Britain contingent as they paid their respects to the fallen Kumuls flyer.

Ottio remains a constant memory in Canberra where he was a squad member alongside Lions stars Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead and Blake Austin, before passing away due to severe heat stroke suffered while training in Port Moresby almost two years ago.

On the tiny island of Tatana, not far from the PNG capital, his Canberra teammates paid tribute to the 23-year-old who died just days before taking up a deal with Widnes Vikings.

Together the Raiders and Vikings raised funds to make Ottio's dream of building his mother Joyce a new home – complete with lime green finish – a reality last year, which the Lions visited on Thursday.

"It really took you back to just how many people and how many lives Kato had touched, and what he meant to the community there," Hodgson said.

"We saw his grave and laid down a shirt for him on behalf of the Great Britain Lions ... and went and saw the home that was built off the back of the money raised for his family.

Great Britain and Canberra Raiders stars Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson pay tribute to Kato Ottio.
Great Britain and Canberra Raiders stars Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson pay tribute to Kato Ottio.

"It was fantastic to see the young children and how excited they were to see us; Kato always had a big smile on his face and loved the game and you can still see that with those who are following in his footsteps.

"Kato's mother gave us a warm welcome and I know this is something that will live with all of us for a long time."

Great Britain will face Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on Saturday, with the memory of Ottio still strong for the local side as well.

The Kumuls take a banner honouring Ottio's life to hang in their dressing room before every game, while rising Storm centre Justin Olam wrote his old teammate's name on his wrist tape for much of 2019.

Thursday's visit to Ottio's village proved an emotional one for Austin, who paid tribute to the community that shaped his former teammate.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child and you can see where Kato got his love of life from when you meet the people he grew up with and lived alongside," Austin said.

"He was a fantastic guy. When he passed away, unfortunately we were unable to attend his funeral, which was a big regret.

"However, this felt very special and a chance for us to visit his grave and leave a Lions shirt in tribute to him."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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