Broncos coach Anthony Seibold has paid tribute to German Rugby League founder Simon Cooper – the man whose passion for the game convinced him and brother Damien to represent their grandfather’s country of birth at Test level.
Cooper, who pioneered the code in Germany in 2004, stepped down from the board of the Nationaler Rugby League Deutschland last year and has now been told he has just weeks to live after a four-year battle with the incurable blood cancer, Myeloma.
“It’s really sad news because Simon is a great rugby league person,” Seibold said. “You don’t go to a country like that to start rugby league when it would have been foreign to everyone in Germany.”
Seibold, whose grandfather Andreas moved to Australia in the 1950s to work on the Snowy River Scheme, didn’t even know rugby league existed in Germany until Cooper emailed him in 2006.
A few months later Seibold was helping Germany to a 38-24 defeat of Estonia in Tallinn.
“Simon saw the name Seibold, knew it was German and reached out to me out of the blue,” said Seibold who was beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Celtic Crusaders in Wales.
“He asked if I could pass on some resources to him to distribute to the coaches in Germany.
“They were ex-rugby union coaches who had become disillusioned with the politics in rugby union in Germany and he had recruited them over to rugby league but they knew nothing about rugby league so I just passed on some information about skills and drills.
“After that Simon sent a German speaking coach to stay with me and my family for a week for some professional development, and he asked me to go over and help with the German team who were playing in Estonia.
“I was meant to go over and help coach but I ended up playing. I flew in, met all the guys, we had one training session and they said we think you would be more help playing so I had to borrow a pair of boots.
“The Estonia team was actually the Estonia rugby union team who were playing rugby league for probably the first time but I remember the ambassador of Germany being at the game so it was a bit of an occasion.”
Seibold didn’t represent Germany again as he focused on a career in coaching but his brother Damien, who is now on the coaching staff at the Central Queensland Capras, played four Tests in the 2010 and 2012 European Shield tournaments.
Former Leeds centre Jimmy Keinhorst and his brothers, Kristian, Markus and Nicholas, set a record in 2007 when they played an international together for Germany - a feat the four Burgess siblings were never able to match.
There is a St George Supporters Club based in Berlin but Cooper said that many rugby league fans in Germany support the Broncos because of Seibold.
“When you see Jimmy playing at Wembley you think, ‘I’ve played with him’, and it’s the same with Anthony coaching at Brisbane,” Cooper told the RLEF podcast.
“You think ‘I’ve played with Anthony, he is a top bloke’ and then watching the game on TV you have an even closer relationship, or we do in Germany, with guys like Jimmy and Anthony.
“His brother Damien is very similar to Anthony and he has helped the German guys when they have gone on travels. It is more than just playing the game of rugby league.
“I could be negative and allow things to get on top of me but rugby league has given so much to me and it is fantastic that the last three or four years that I have had the disease I have never been alone.
“The rugby league family, not just in Germany but around Europe and around the world, have been so supportive.”
I was meant to go over and help coach but I ended up playing.Anthony Seibold
The son of a Hamburg-born father and grandson of a Luftwaffe serviceman who died in the air over France, Cooper moved to Germany in 2002 and organised the country’s first rugby league match in Heidelberg three years later.
The match was a nine-a-side game between a Munich team that Cooper had a recruited and a group of rugby union converts from Heidelberg organised by Uwe Jansen after the pair had made contact through an internet forum.
Jansen played against Estonia alongside Seibold, who was five-eighth, and he helped Cooper overcome battles with rugby union to establish the game in Germany.
“I just remember how passionate Simon was to try and get the game up and going in Germany so the least I could do was forward him on some information to help with his coaches.
“I used to subscribe to the Rugby League Coaching Manual and I would send over drills and ideas for them to use.
“I really pay tribute to Simon and people like him around the world, who are really passionate about our game and put so much time and energy into introducing rugby league and spreading it to others.”