England's defence coach makes point of understanding players – and sharing his own pain
Anthony Seibold’s journey through hell and back
In England camp they call it Triple H.
No, not after the wrestler Triple H, but rather it is the term used for when, every Monday, one of the players stands up and tells their team-mates about three things that make them who they are today – a hero they had growing up, a highlight in their life and a hardship they’ve had to endure.
It was introduced to the back-three unit by defence coach Anthony Seibold, who tells us: “Some of the stories that they’ve shared, it’s got quite emotional at different times.”
The former NRL head coach knows something about hardships himself, and back when he was at his very first England camp, in Jersey, he felt the need to bare all about the online hell his family suffered through while he was Brisbane Broncos boss.
As the Aussie explains: “My hardship and what I had to go through with social media and things around that – it was important that the players knew that coaching hasn’t always been rosy for me, coaching has been challenging and the profile of the NRL in Australian sport is significant. It’s front- and back-page news back home. And I had to go through that crap.”
Before we get to “that crap”, it’s worth recounting Seibold’s journey to this point as he has studied each and every rung on the ladder in league.
Having come through the Broncos Academy, he played for Canberra Raiders in the NRL. He saw the coaching of hall of famers Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga up close. But he also made the decision to get a teaching degree while he was playing too.
He hung the boots up at the very start of his 30s, having played in Super League with London Broncos and then (after a horrid knee injury) captaining Hull KR for a few seasons. He went into university lecturing, at the University of Southern Queensland, teaching teachers for 18 months. But getting back to the cut and thrust of elite rugby league called to him.
He did some time interacting with the NRL’s equivalent of the farm (feeder) system, but went on to be an assistant with the incredibly successful Melbourne Storm outfit, as well as with Queensland’s State of Origin side. Then it was time to begin his head coach journey.
During a spell in charge of South Sydney Rabbitohs, he won the Dally M Coach of the Year award. Then an unbelievable opportunity for a six-year stint with the Broncos came up, replacing the “Alex Ferguson of Australian sport” in Bennett. But the dream soured…
After results took a turn in his second season, following a Covid-enforced break, a frenzy was whipped up. This is one of the iconic teams in Australian sport and public criticism soon spilled onto social media platforms. The chat got gruesome, with “vile” rumours forming part of a smear campaign. And it wouldn’t stop.
Even after he and the club parted ways that noise still echoed. Something needed to be done. So what happened next?
Seibold goes on: “Myself and a high-profile journalist back in Australia, Erin Molan, we were heavily trolled – different situations, but we were both heavily defamed and trolled on social media. With our public profiles in Australia, we decided to make a stand as bullying and online trolling in Australia has been heartbreaking for some people. It’s ruined some family’s lives. And not everyone’s got a platform to raise awareness in that space.
“The legislation was archaic back in Australia. So we decided to speak out, lobbying parliament, and from a really shitty situation, we’ve made some positive change. There’s legislation change in Australia (afoot), that’s bigger than anything I’ve ever done in coaching, to have an impact in that space.
“As I said, because of my profile in Australian sport I was able to have a voice. Although that was the last thing I felt like doing after a shitty season with the Broncos, I needed to make a stand because of what my family went through.
“It’s a real small part of the journey and I’ve had 15 years of great experiences that occurred. Working my way from grass roots to assistant coach in Melbourne, assistant coach of Queensland, and then to go to two of the biggest teams in the NRL. I had a shitty six-month period. You learn from that and there are certain things I could have done better. There are certain things that could have been supported better.
“Out of that came a lot of the trolling and defamation and harassment on social media and (it was time) someone else put their hand up and said, ‘This isn’t going to back off and it’s not right because it’s happening not just to us but in schools and in other settings’.”
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Only last week, Seibold appeared via video link to address a Senate inquiry in Australia on ‘anti-trolling’ legislation. The upshot of all this is that experts are urging changes to defamation laws in the country, even if the role of social media companies in hosting commenters garners a lot of attention.
Either way, it was a stark admission, when Seibold told those on the call that: “The best way to describe it for some family members, and myself, it’s almost like PTSD, like that’s the significance of the impact that had on us.” There is still much to address.
Which may make the pressure of being an England assistant feel somewhat lessened. As the man himself adds of scrutiny: “What worse can I go through now?” He’s loving the next chapter, saying that he jumps out of bed in the morning.
Seibold describes working with Eddie Jones and the England players as exceptional. The way he tells it, he had opportunities in league, union, the media and the corporate sphere after his spell in Brisbane, but he didn’t hesitate to take on another high-profile gig.
A Six Nations has plenty akin with the drama and ‘big top’ feel of Origin, the former league prop adds, and so he’s thrown his all in. And he ensures that he learns from any brief downturn in his coaching fortunes, as much as the good times.
That’s where the Triple H comes in. Because there is enough evidence to show that if a coach is invested in the people, they are far more likely to respond to the Xs and Os of the coaching. Ask a fella to empty the tank, surely they are more likely to do so if they know you care about them.
There are sure to be more challenges ahead as England build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but given what he went through in his native land and his experience with some of the biggest events in Aussie sport, Seibold won’t be daunted.
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