Lockyer reveals why Broncos chose Seibold

For the first time Broncos legend Darren Lockyer goes into detail about why Anthony Seibold won the coaching race, why Kevin Walters missed out - and his heartbreak at the demise of Wayne Bennett. Read part four of Peter Badel's series here.

WAYNE Bennett and his Broncos superiors may have been at loggerheads, but amid the vitriol, they shared common ground on one key front.

They had fallen out of love with each other's ability.

If Bennett had lost trust in the Broncos establishment, believing CEO Paul White and chairman Karl Morris lacked the transparency, humanity and get-it-done entrepreneurial mentality of founding father Paul 'Porky' Morgan, well … Brisbane's hierarchy had lost trust in him.

Bennett had been brought back for the 2015 season to fix the mess at Red Hill. Brisbane were mired in the longest title 'drought' in their history, spanning a decade.

No other coach had delivered trophies to the Broncos. Bennett delivered six in 14 years. The Broncos seemed soulless without Wayne. It made sense to bring the coaching tsar back to reprise the glory days.

But after four consecutive campaigns without another title breakthrough, notwithstanding the crushing extra-time grand-final loss to the Cowboys in Bennett's first season back in charge in 2015, Broncos hierarchy were growing impatient.

Worse, they feared age was beginning to weary Bennett.

 

The strain of the Broncos coaching drama shows on the face of Wayne Bennett last year. Picture: AAP
The strain of the Broncos coaching drama shows on the face of Wayne Bennett last year. Picture: AAP

 

He was forgetting names and allegedly refused to meet key corporate partners. On Brisbane's day off, usually a Wednesday, he would seek stress-easing solitude in a 320km round-trip to his farm at Warwick.

This was not the Bennett of the Wonder Years. To them, he seemed disorganised, distracted and inconsistent.

Rugby league has a well-worn aphorism that a football team invariably, imperceptibly, adopts the personality of its coach.

If so, the Broncos looked an on-field representation of their coach. They were hard to read. Erratic. Unpredictable.

During the 2018 season, the Broncos never won more than three consecutive games in a season. On seven occasions, they won one week, then lost the next. They had the worst defence of the finals teams, leaking a whopping 500 points.

In the first week of the playoffs, they were slaughtered 48-18, on home soil, mind you, by the Dragons.

The previous season, Bennett's Broncos were flogged 30-0 by Melbourne in the grand-final qualifier at AAMI Park.

 

TOUGH TIMES DON'T LAST TOUGH PEOPLE DO

 

Privately, Bennett had recognised his squad's foibles. He believed they had the talent to win the 2019 premiership but not the mental toughness.

Weeks before his sacking, Bennett had already made his mind up: the Broncos would embark on a pre-season military camp, the type that almost killed club legend Petero Civoniceva, who collapsed with heat exhaustion at Canungra in 2003.

But the Broncos board effectively delivered the bullet to any prospect of a military camp. Ostensibly, they had given up hope of winning another title under Bennett. It was time to draw up a shortlist of names to succeed the 68-year-old.

As the Broncos board moved to authorise White's search for a viable replacement, few knew of the personal hardships Bennett was enduring. Reluctant to impose any further pressure on his players, Bennett chose to suffer in silence.

There was the time Bennett's disabled son, Justin, suffered eight seizures in one night. Bennett didn't sleep a wink.

Bennett had a mattress brought into his office for his son. Justin took four pills daily, the dosage so heavy it could leave him dazed and on the brink of passing out.

On the days Justin would visit Red Hill, he would sometimes crash, falling asleep at his father's feet as Bennett worked on Brisbane's game plans with assistant Jason Demetriou.

But Brisbane's decision-makers had a $51 million brand to protect and promulgate. They had to march forward.

 

 

IF NOT BENNETT, THEN WHO?

When Bennett boarded a plane to England in early October for a Test series against New Zealand, White activated the interview process to find Brisbane's next coach.

Four men were short-listed: Demetriou, Kevin Walters, Michael Maguire and Anthony Seibold.

As part of the interview process, the quartet would undergo psychometric testing, a standard and scientific method used to measure individuals' mental capabilities and behavioural style. The test was conducted by Hogan Assessments. Demetriou, Walters, Maguire and Seibold were given an email link and a password to log in for the test.

A three-man committee, comprising White, Morris and club legend Darren Locker, also a board member, was put in place to interview the applicants.

On October 8, White and Morris flew to Sydney for a three-hour interview with Seibold. Lockyer was unable to attend.

When it was Demetriou's turn to face the music on October 18, the Broncos assistant was informed White would not be present.

White and Demetriou had met face-to-face for a two-hour presentation a few weeks prior to the interview. White had informed Demetriou he didn't want to prejudice his interview process in front of Morris and Lockyer.

The Broncos CEO also had another engagement to attend on the day and told Demetriou he was already aware of his capabilities, having seen him at the coalface for the past two seasons at Red Hill.

But nonetheless, Demetriou's heart sank.

"I'm no hope," he thought.

Assistant coach Jason Demetriou looks on during a Brisbane Broncos training session last year. Picture: AAP
Assistant coach Jason Demetriou looks on during a Brisbane Broncos training session last year. Picture: AAP

Undeterred, Demetriou drove into Brisbane's CBD for a meeting with Morris and Lockyer. There was just one problem. Lockyer had gone to the wrong address, and was running half-an-hour late.

When Lockyer arrived, the trio entered a boardroom. Morris thanked Demetriou for his participation and said he would listen with an "open mind", a possible reference to persistent rumours the interview process was a glossy PR exercise and that Seibold was a done-deal months earlier.

Demetriou launched into his spiel. He put up two key slides. One showed his remarkable 78 per cent win rate in the Intrust Super Cup. The second, under a graphic labelled "Merit", compared his career coaching record against Seibold's from 2010-18.

During that time, Demetriou had four premiership wins (including his assistant's role to Cowboys coach Paul Green in 2015). There were two other preliminary final appearances. He had missed the finals once in a decade.

By comparison, Seibold had a string of comparatively poor results, including consecutive ninth-placings with Intrust Super Cup side Mackay in 2011-12.

Of the four candidates, Seibold, if applying a strict barometer of table results, was a distant fourth. Maguire had won an NRL premiership. Queensland coach Walters had won two Origin series. Demetriou had a string of lower-tier titles. Seibold had no silverware, but he was the reigning NRL coach-of-the-year after steering Souths to the top four in a superb rookie season.

Morris wrapped up proceedings with Demetriou. Despite being disappointed at White's absence, Demetriou was otherwise satisfied with the process. Lockyer had a follow-up meeting with Demetriou where he stepped him through the pros and cons of his presentation.

Demetriou was appreciative of Lockyer's feedback.

The Kevin Walters-coached Broncos youth side in 2005, which contained a young Anthony Seibold (front row, second from left). Picture: David Kapernick
The Kevin Walters-coached Broncos youth side in 2005, which contained a young Anthony Seibold (front row, second from left). Picture: David Kapernick

Walters, however, had some concerns.

He was informed Lockyer would be unable to attend his interview as he was in New Zealand preparing to commentate on Australia's historic Test match against Tonga.

Walters asked for his meeting to be rescheduled. He wanted to ensure his pitch was heard by every member of the three-man panel. White and Morris agreed. Walters eventually completed his presentation when Lockyer returned from Auckland.

A week after the month-long interview process, the Broncos board convened. Seibold's name was put forward by the recruitment committee as Bennett's successor. The board gave their imprimatur.

On October 31, Seibold was officially announced as Bennett's successor, triggering a savage backlash from Brisbane's Old Boys, who believed Walters deserved to be the heir apparent.

Former Broncos centre Chris Johns, one of Walters' closest friends, labelled the interview process "shambolic" and claimed Seibold was secretly sized up for the job. Premiership-winning prop Glenn Lazarus said Walters was a victim of "politics".

 

LOCKYER: WHY WE CHOSE SEIBOLD

Today, Lockyer gives the most detailed account yet as to why the three-man committee chose Seibold over Maguire, Walters and Demetriou.

"If you judged them on their presentations alone, Anthony was easily the winner," Lockyer says.

"One of the things that concerned me with the Broncos is that they were struggling with on-field consistency.

"Their inconsistent form wasn't going to win us a premiership.

"The big thing for me was Anthony's attention to detail. He was strong on routine.

"When I played, I played my best football when our preparation for games was excellent. You have to be disciplined with your routines and I saw that with Seibold's approach.

"He had a real structure around routine and having a consistent approach. I believed his philosophies around coaching and the football program day-to-day would be positive in fixing the squad's inconsistent performance and strengthening the players' mindsets.

Anthony Seibold at Redfern Oval after being announced coach of South Sydney at the end of 2017. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Anthony Seibold at Redfern Oval after being announced coach of South Sydney at the end of 2017. Picture: Phil Hillyard

"When you look at what 'Seibs' brought to Souths, he gave them a great framework. Anthony had exactly the attributes we were looking for.

"In his presentation, Anthony articulated himself very well. He had some great insights into how he manages people and how he organises and sets a workplace culture.

"I really liked his approach. I liked his philosophies and the selection committee felt the same way.

"His presentation to us was outstanding. All the candidates were very good, but Anthony was in my eyes and our eyes the standout."

Shattered by the result, Walters went on the hunt for answers. He contacted Hogan Assessments and asked to see the outcome of his psychometric test.

The company's assessor sat down with Walters and went through his scores.

"You've aced it," she told Walters. "Your test results show you are the right candidate and had the right temperament for the job."

It's possible all four candidates, including Seibold, also blitzed the psychometric test. The gut feel of the panel would have been a factor.

Then there were other whispers: that White was biased in backing Seibold.

The pair had a strong geographic bond with their roots in Rockhampton. Lockyer and White both take offence at suggestions the interview process was rigged, influenced by a 'Rockhampton Mafia' mentality.

"It's simply untrue," White says. "For people to suggest that I might drawing a geographic bias when appointing Broncos coaches, that's just ridiculous."

Anthony Seibold watches on during a Brisbane Broncos training session at Red Hill this week. Picture: Getty Images
Anthony Seibold watches on during a Brisbane Broncos training session at Red Hill this week. Picture: Getty Images

When it is pointed out Bennett's predecessor, Anthony Griffin, was also a Rockhampton product, and White's best mate, the Broncos CEO replies: "I went after Wayne when Ivan Henjak was sacked, not Anthony (Griffin).

"I was in my first year as CEO when that happened and when we missed out on Wayne, 'Hook' (Griffin) came into the equation as he was already an assistant at the club.

"I was actually born in Charleville, not Rockhampton. Rocky was just one of my towns I lived in as a policeman.

"To suggest I pushed for Anthony Seibold because a Rockhampton boy is unfair on myself and the club."

Lockyer adds: "I would never be part of a sham. It was a proper process and all candidates were there because we felt all of them were capable coaches.

"It was hugely difficult for me overlooking 'Kevvie'. We won premierships together. But in my role, I can't be biased. I had to put aside the mateship and the emotion and just analyse it for what I thought was the best fit for the team and the club.

"Seibs won the process fair and square. He was the best candidate and despite Brisbane's start to the season, my mind hasn't changed at all."

 

THE CASUALTY OF WAR

Still, the pain of the process lingers. Bennett and Lockyer's great friendship has been a sad casualty of the saga.

Bennett believes Lockyer sat on his hands during his fight to stay at Red Hill, remaining a silent diplomat on the board. Lockyer argues he was the board member desperately attempting to buy time for Bennett.

But when the Broncos were thumped by the Dragons in the finals, the clock had stopped ticking.

"Things have improved with me and Wayne," Lockyer says, his tone suggesting the reparation is not yet complete.

"It was a period that took its toll on a lot of people. Staff were affected. The working environment at the Broncos was not great.

"As a board, we couldn't accept that situation.

"Now, we have to get on with life."



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