Budding NRL star and ex-Raider dead at 23
THE NRL community is mourning the death of former Canberra Raiders winger Kato Ottio.
News the Papua New Guinea international had died began filtering out on social media early Tuesday before his Super League club - Widnes Vikings - confirmed his death.
Vikings CEO James Rule said Ottio's death had shocked the club.
"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," Rule said in a statement.
"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.
"Having only learned this morning that Kato had developed a sudden health issue whilst training yesterday, we are in absolute shock to now receive this tragic news.
"We will be liaising closely with his loved ones to offer them our condolences and support at this difficult time. 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."
Vikings head coach said Denis Betts said Ottio had been primed to join his new club after a successful Rugby League World Cup campaign in November.
"To receive this tragic news is heart-breaking. All of us saw at the World Cup the incredible gifts that Kato had, and his potential to forge a great career in rugby league," Betts said.
"Moreover, in all of our interactions with him, we found Kato to be a person of great character, who was excited to be following his dreams.
"On behalf of the coaching team, staff and players at Widnes Vikings, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Kato's loved ones."
Although he never got to make his NRL debut for the Raiders, Ottio was a prolific try scorer for Canberra's feeder side Mounties in the NSW Cup.
Raiders teammates this morning took to social media to pay tribute to Ottio.
Raiders forward Elliott Whitehead said Ottio would be sorely missed.
"Such sad news this morning hearing about Kato passing away," Elliott said on Instagram.
"One guy who has always had a smile on his face. Loved my time with him at Raiders. RIP mate, gone way to soon."
Blake Austin echoed the sentiments of his teammates.
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 posted to his Instagram account.
Ottio left the Raiders at the end of the 2017 season to take up a Super League contract with Widnes Vikings.