A country mourns

Kato Ottio is gone, but he will never be forgotten.

They turned up in the hundreds, and they kept on coming. People from all walks of life poured in today to the Sir John Guise Stadium to pay their respects to the gentle giant from a mixed parentage of Koiari, Tatana and Bougainville.

Tears flowed freely as the coffin of the 23-year-old star was carried in to the indoor complex by his SP Hunters and PNG Kumuls teammates.

CEO of the PNG Rugby Football League, Reatau Rau, said today’s funeral was about celebrating Kato Ottio’s life.

Ottio’s big brother, Ahulo, recalled that Kato, like thousands of other kids around the country, grew up with the dream to one day put on the Kumuls jumper.  

“Like boys his age, at six he was often given a good hiding from playing touch rugby too much from morning till after dark.

“Many of those times, he was often in the company of his cousin, Adam Korave.”

Kato had his first real go at playing rugby league for TI Fairfax at Ipi Park, Hohola, in 2008, but more so as a hobby, said Ahulo.

“However, his volleyball skills excelled over rugby at that time and in 2013, was selected to represent PNG at the Pacific Mini Games in Wallis and Futuna, which saw the men’s team win gold.

“The very next year in 2014 was when his ascension in rugby league really took off.”

The rest is history.

“I am lost for words at how such a young person like you could have possibly touched the lives of so many people as you have without ever meeting them.

“You still had so much to offer, which is what tears me up inside.

“I thank you for being a wonderful brother and son, bubu and friend. Your rise to the top will always be an inspiration to the young kids who play rugby or in whatever sport.

“God broke our hearts to prove he only takes the best. I love you and miss you.”

Tributes flowed from goverment ministers, the SP Hunters players, PNGRFL and sporting bodies far and wide.

“He was destined for football greatness. While his football talent has been a source of pride and joy for us, his humility, professionalism, sacrifice, discipline and commitment off the field has been just as exemplary. He will always be remembered,” said Chairman of the PNGRFL, Sandis Tsaka.

SP Hunters captain, Ase Boas, said: “I stand here with so much sorrow. Kato was truly an icon. He changed rugby league. His legacy will live on forever.

“It was an honour to have played with you, brother.”

How he had impacted the lives of thousands was evident when it was time to view his body. No one could hold back their tears.

Kato’s body was officially handed over to his family after today’s funeral. His casket will be taken from the Funeral Home to his village of Tatana where it will overnight, before being buried the next day (Tuesday, January 16) at Tatana cemetery. 

Troy Taule