ENGLAND hooker Josh Hodgson admits he will “never forget” the touching experience of visiting the home of former team-mate Kato Ottio in Papua New Guinea - and admits it was a reminder to all the Lions of how fortunate they are.
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Kumuls international Ottio played alongside Great Britain players Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead and Blake Austin at Canberra Raiders but died at the age of just 23 following a training run.
He had been due to move to Super League with Widnes Vikings when he collapsed in his homeland after suffering suspected severe heat stroke in January last year.
Great Britain face PNG in Port Moresby on Saturday and the squad visited Tatana Island to pay tribute to Ottio who faced England in the 2017 World Cup quarter-final.
The tourists were met by the entire village before a short ceremony and the chance to visit the grave along with being taken to his mother's house, which was the former centre’s legacy after he passed away.
Former Hull KR and Hull FC hooker Hodgson said: “It was a bit of a touching visit.
“Obviously we wish we were going in different circumstances and it wasn’t to pay tribute to a friend.
“But we went and paid our respects. It really took you back on just how many people and lives Kato touched and what he meant to the community there.
“We saw his grave and laid down a shirt for him on behalf of the Great Britain Lions. We paid our respects and went to see the home which was built off the back of some money raised for his family.”
The house was also built in the green of Canberra Raiders, showing how much he was remembered at his former NRL club.
The Yorkshireman, 30, added: “He was a big part of the team.
“He didn’t get to play much but was a big part of the squad and came in every day with a big smile on his face.
“That’s a common theme with everyone you speak to about Kato - he always had a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
“He was genuinely such a nice kid and it was such a sad story what happened to him.
“But it was also nice to go to his village and see the hundreds and thousands of people who were queuing up just to see you, touch you, shake hands with you, have a photo and the kids who have literally nothing compared to what we have back home yet they are so happy.
“It was really touching and a real eye-opener about how sometimes you can take things for granted in life.”
As he prepares for the final game of a testing tour, Hodgson added: “It’s something that will sit with me for a long, long time.
“I’ll never forget that experience and I’m really happy we’ve had the chance to do that.
“I think it was a really good for everybody in this team; we live such a privileged lifestyle, not only because we’re rugby league players but just in terms of the country, where we’re from and how we were raised by our parents and the facilities, healthcare all of that.
“When you come to a place like this - a remote village where they don’t have an awful lot and are just living hand to mouth, if they don’t work they don’t get fed - it is a real eye-opener.
“The biggest eye-opener was just how they are all so happy in general; every little kid had the biggest smile on their face.
“You saw kids playing in the street with rugby balls and sometimes it shows you can get carried away with things you think you need in life when really you don’t.
“I hope I get the chance to do it again, if I’m honest.”
Austin, who left Canberra for Warrington Wolves and starred in Super League this year, added: “They say it takes a village to raise a child and you can see where Kato got his love of life from when you meet the people he grew up with and lived alongside.
“He was a fantastic guy. When he passed away, unfortunately we were unable to attend his funeral, which was a big regret.
“However, this felt very special and a chance for us to visit his grave and leave a Lions shirt in tribute to him.”