Rugby league is a sport which often prides itself on the family environment it produces, the fact that opposition fans mingle without confrontation and everybody feels welcome. There are certain times that these elements might fade away but news this week has, definitely, brought the brotherhood back together following the tragic news surrounding Widnes Vikings’ Kato Ottio.
A Papua New Guinea RLWC star, Ottio had earned six caps for his national team and had been on Canberra Raider’s books in the NRL since 2016. As a mark of his potential, he signed for the Green Machine after playing the sport for just two years, initially having represented his country at volleyball. While he never featured for the club in the NRL, he regularly featured for the Mount Pritchard Mounties, Raiders’ feeder club.
His death – which has unquestionably shook the rugby league world – came to light due to a sudden health issue, believed to be sudden heat stroke, which arose while on a training run back in his homeland before his move this week to England to begin a contract to play for Widnes Vikings. The centre’s partner on the Kumuls’ left edge, Castleford new boy Garry Lo, was devastated by the news and said “I was really emotional, I cried all night. We had played together for PNG and Hunters – he’s my centre and I’m his wing. He’s my brother – in games and everything, we do things together.” No doubt the two would have had plans when they had settled in northern England.
Widnes themselves have set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for Ottio’s family and over £3000 has been raised at the time of writing. James Rule, the club’s CEO, was understandably hurt by the tragic news surrounding a man of great potential and said “We are devastated to learn that Kato Ottio has passed away. Kato was an incredibly talented player, with a bright future ahead of him in Rugby League. We had been in regular contact with Kato and were excited to welcome a bright, excited and passionate young man, who had genuine potential for the future.” Indeed, Ottio was set to fulfil a dream of playing first grade rugby league and, if nothing more, his family and loved ones will know that he had earned his chance to do so. Head coach Denis Betts shared the sentiments of the CEO and further added, as did the club as a whole, their “sincere condolences to Kato’s loved ones.”
It is a great shame that the sport of rugby league has been deprived of a highly thought of talent and of a man who is spoken of so highly by both peers and friends. It is clear that the game is united in supporting those in need as a result of the tragic news – and that is something which really does set rugby league apart.
RIP, Kato Ottio.