Ex-Canberra Raiders and Papua New Guinea centre Kato Ottio dies aged 23

Widnes Vikings and Papua New Guinea centre Kato Ottio has died at the age of 23 after suffering “a sudden health issue” in training, the English rugby league club said on Monday.

PNG Rugby Football League ChairmanSandisTsakaconfirmed theKumulsinternational passed away at the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby at 2am on Tuesday.

Ottio was expected to travel to England next week to get ready for the start of the new Super League season in February having signed for Widnes from the Canberra Raiders in December.

After signing for the Raiders in early 2016the centre established himself as a major part of feeder club Mounties,scoring regularly in NSW Cup fixtures.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuartspoke of Kato’s positive attitude and impact at the clubthis morning.

“Receiving the devastating news this morning knocked me for six. It was hard to believe given the age of Kato and how I remembered him here, I am really lost for words,” Stuart said.

“He was a very respectful young man who appreciated everything we were doing for him here in adjusting to life in Canberra and learning his trade in becoming a professional football player.”

Ottiowas also a key part of the Papua New Guinea side which lost to England in November’s World Cup quarter-finals – an experience he had hoped would help springboard him toward anNRL debut, before Widnes came knocking.

Canberra Raidershalf Blake Austinwas amongst former teammates to come out in mourning on social media this morning.

“Shattered to hear the news about katsy. Wasn’t a day he wasn’t smiling, gone way too soon. Prayers with all his family,” Austin said on Instagram.

James Rule, CEO of Widnes Vikings, told the team’s official website: “We are devastated to learn that Kato Ottio has passed away this afternoon. Kato was an incredibly talented player, with a bright future ahead of him in Rugby League.

“This news is all the more tragic, because Kato was due to travel to the UK this week to fulfil his dream of playing first-grade 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.

“Widnes Vikings will of course be looking to celebrate Kato’s life and pay our sincere respects to someone who we believe would have become a hero at our club”.

The club said they were “still learning the full facts of this situation”.

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