Sport: PNG Hunters still struggling with Kato Ottio death

2:36 pm on 4 May 2018

Papua New Guinea Hunters rugby league coach Michael Marum says the death of Kato Ottio is still casting a long shadow over the team.

The Hunters are the reigning Intrust Super Cup champions but have struggled to replicate their form in 2018, losing six of eight games, including four in a row.

PNG Kumuls international Ottio collapsed while training with the Hunters squad in January and later died in hospital.

Kato Ottio gets tackled by Kallum Watkins and Sam Burgess during the England Vs Papua New Guinea 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Kato Ottio tests the England defence during the 2017 World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 23 year old played for Hunters in 2015 before signing with the Canberra Raiders and was about to link up with UK Super League club Widnes Vikings.

Michael Marum believed off-field matters, including family and the loss of their former teammate, had contributed to their early struggles.

"After we lost Kato sometimes you can see when you're pushing them at training they don't want to go put that extra work in or they sometimes just slow down and you can understand where they're coming (from and) what they're probably thinking about," he said.

PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum.

PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Melvin Levongo

Michael Marum dismissed suggestions a long 2017 season had left the squad fatigued.

He said senior players had sufficient rest and time off after the World Cup ended in November and simply were not playing or training to the same standards.

"We struggled and there was a lot of calls for us to bring back all our old players but all the old players have gone and they've taken up studying or they're trying to look for employment elsewhere," he said.

"They're not even playing with their local clubs so we can't just turn around and get them back in. Even if we had our full squad from last year we would still be struggling right now because players they seem to think they're the champions and they don't want to put in the extra effort.

"They're not committed to doing any extra stuff: when you ask them to do a bit more stuff they get up and just walk away, stuff like that."

The Hunters are seeking back to back premierships in 2018

The Hunters are seeking back to back premierships in 2018 Photo: RNZ Pacific / Melvin Levongo

The Hunters squad have the bye this week and Michael Marum said they will reassemble on Sunday to discuss what has been going wrong and how to improve.

"I've asked the chairman and the CEO to come in and join us for dinner and just see the boys and speak to us because right now we're losing games and I'm the only one spending time with the players," he said.

"In the changing room after the match, before games, travelling away with them and at training so we need to get our big bosses to come back and see us and feel what we're going through.

"The boys might turn around and tell them a few things they've probably been hiding or something like that."

The PNG Hunters in action against the Ipswich Jets.

The Hunters have won just two of eight games in 2018. Photo: Melvin Levongo