THE tears of joy on the other end of the phone remind Raiders recruit Kato Ottio why he is pursuing his magical rugby league dream.
Ottio’s goal of buying his mother a house is one step closer to becoming a reality after the 21-year-old Papua New Guinea international signed a two-year contract with the Raiders.
An entire country will instantly become loyal fans of the Green Machine to support one of the few players who comes directly from PNG’s local competition.
Ottio grew up in the village of Tatana and was raised by his mother after his father passed away when he was 14.
"I rang her and I told her (I had signed with the Raiders) and she was crying. She was happy and she was excited about it," Ottio said. "My first goal is to play top grade and to buy my mum a house and put Jesus Christ first in what I’m doing.
"My mum did so well for me, she looked after me when I was a kid until now. I’m so grateful."
Any time he is short of motivation, Ottio looks at a list of his goals that are plastered on the wall at his house.
His rise has been nothing short of spectacular.
He took up rugby league only at the end of 2014 before the Raiders spotted the former volleyball star playing for the PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup last year.
He was initially offered a train and trial deal with the Raiders, impressing the coaching staff enough to play in the Auckland Nines and secure a permanent contract.
"When I grew up in the village, there’s a volleyball competition that went on, so I decided to play volleyball," Ottio said.
"One year, I travelled to some countries and played, I even went to the Philippines to play in the Asian Men’s Championship.
"From there, I came back and said that’s it, I want to play rugby." Ottio’s move to the Raiders will forge a new legion of fans in PNG for the Green Machine.
PNG is the only country in the world where rugby league is the national sport.
The Raiders’ Facebook page was bombarded on Friday by messages of support from people in PNG after Ottio’s signing was announced. Ottio has lost eight kilograms since arriving at the Raiders, tipping the scales at 99kg as part of the increased conditioning required to play in the NRL.
He has been training on the wing and learning from Sisa Waqa and Edrick Lee, but he can also play in the centres and the second row. "When I started playing rugby league my goal was to play NRL one day," Ottio said.
"When the Raiders called me up for the train and trial, it was a great opportunity and I came here.
"I still got a lot more to do and I will fight for it until I get it."
Ottio hopes other players from the Hunters can go on to secure contracts with NRL clubs. Raiders chief executive Don Furner said the club was excited about what Ottio’s signing would mean to the people of PNG.
"I would love to be able to send some players back with Kato to his village to help promote the Raiders," Furner said. "Some of the players who have gone there on the Prime Minister’s XIII matches have said it’s unbelievable.
"He certainly has exceeded expectations, he’s played a lot better than what we thought, he handled the Nines really well and he’s very raw.
"I’d be surprised if he didn’t get an NRL game this year."
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