There has been an outpouring of grief around the world following the sudden passing of former Raider Kato Ottio. Photo: Brett Costello
There has been an outpouring of grief around the world following the sudden passing of former Raider Kato Ottio. Photo: Brett Costello

Revealed: Why young rugby league star suddenly died

RUGBY LEAGUE: Details have emerged of the moments before Kato Ottio collapsed into a coma that he would never wake from, with his ultra-professionalism potentially playing a part in his death.

Speaking to the Wide World of Sports, Ottio's manager Steve Deacon said the 23-year-old had chosen to continue running after taking part in a gruelling eight-kilometre road run with the Hunters on a Port Moresby day where the mercury rose to 33 degrees.

His running slowed before he collapsed, with Ottio's mother Joyce telling The Daily Telegraph that the cause of death was "heatstroke". 

"He got heatstroke, that's what the doctor said," she said from PNG.

"I love him so much, he is my everything. I was with him at the hospital and he should be close to me, I miss my son so much."

Kato Ottio played all four games for the Kumuls in the 2017 World Cup. Photo: David Buller
Kato Ottio played all four games for the Kumuls in the 2017 World Cup. Photo: David Buller

Previously contracted with the Canberra Raiders, Ottio had briefly reunited with many of his former Hunters teammates for a training run as he prepared to continue his rugby league career playing for Widnes in the English Super League.

It ended in tragedy when he collapsed on the road, with Deacon saying Ottio had attempted to lead by example in front of the Hunters players.

"The run was over and a few of the boys walked back while others got a ride," Deacon said.

"But Kato told a few of the players 'let's run back', he wanted to use the professionalism he gained from his time at Canberra to rub off on his younger countrymen.

"He got slower and eventually collapsed. He was unconscious and in a coma and they were not able to revive him.

"He was a great guy and I'm just devastated."

Ottio had recently featured in all four World Cup games for Papua New Guinea, scoring a try in the Kumuls' opening win against Wales.

A talented volleyball player who came late to rugby league but rose quickly through its ranks, Ottio was selected to play first for the Hunters and then the Kumuls in 2015 before being snapped up by the Raiders.

His death has caused widespread sadness and shock among the Hunters' players and staff with the defence of their Intrust Super Cup title put on hold indefinitely during the club's period of mourning.

Watson Boas and Kato Ottio celebrate a PNG Test victory over Fiji.
Watson Boas and Kato Ottio celebrate a PNG Test victory over Fiji.
Coach since the inception of the Hunters in 2014 and current coach of the Kumuls, Michael Marum had no hesitation in suspending his team's pre-season training in the wake of Ottio's death and told that their sole focus for the immediate future is providing adequate support to players, staff and their families.

"We are just worrying about looking after our players and we have already suspended training indefinitely," Marum said.

"All we are trying to do is to make sure all our minds are OK and the boys are mentally OK.

"Obviously they are all very upset about the loss of Kato so all we are doing is providing support to the family and all of our players that are in camp, especially the ones that have played with him over the past three or four seasons.

"There are a couple of the boys that are related to Kato that are in the side here - Adam Korave and Silas Gahuna - so those two players have been released to go back to their families and don't have to be in camp at all.

"The ones that are the new boys and the ones from outside of Port Moresby we are keeping them in camp to make sure they are having normal meals and just keeping an eye on them."

Marum and Hunters management have had next to no sleep since Ottio took ill on Sunday night, devoting every waking hour to not only their players but also providing support to Ottio's family.

The 2017 champion Hunters team that brought such joy to the people of PNG had only reassembled in Port Moresby to begin their 2018 campaign last Thursday and Marum had no hesitation in welcoming his Kumul centre to train with the team before he departed for England.

Ottio had conducted previously linked with the Hunters for training sessions during trips home throughout his two-year stint with Canberra and Marum saw no indication of any health issues when he turned up to train on Sunday.

"When he called me I talked to him and he turned up straight after," Marum said of Ottio's request to attend Sunday's training session.

"He seemed really OK. I didn't see anything in him so I thought he was OK. He said he was training and preparing to go up to England.

"We were not aware of how he was the night before and before he came in to join us.

"When he was with the Raiders he would come up and spend some time training with us as well so that's why when he asked I thought it was OK to let him join in."

Marum said that the outpouring of support from the NRL, Intrust Super Cup, Intrust Super Premiership and clubs in England and elsewhere around the world was greatly appreciated and said the club will continue to assist players through the grieving process.

"It's going to take a bit of time and making sure we get all our heads right," Marum said.

"We'll sit down as a club and also sit down with individual players and the management will see how we can help if players have got concerns and other things in their minds.

"We'll try our very best to identify and assist them where we can."

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