“Who’s the bloke in the red headgear?” That man is Langi Gleeson, a colossus of immense size and power, who has enjoyed an “insanely” meteoric rise to fame, one that compares favourably with any from the professional era in Australia.
Born in Sydney, but with a strong Fijian heritage, Gleeson played his first Test after just eight matches - and a mere 150 minutes - with the Waratahs. The humble, unassuming and gently spoken Gleeson played his first rugby for Harbord Harlequins U12s as a winger. He made the transition to No.8 and played there when selected for the 1st XV at St Augustine’s. Gleeson represented Australian Schools Barbarians in 2019 before he had a stint in rugby league with the South Sydney Rabbitohs U20s.
Upon his return to rugby Gleeson left the strength and conditioning people at Rugby Australia in awe with the numbers he recorded. His time over 40-metres was only equaled by winger Dylan Pietsch. In addition, Gleeson was lifting “ridiculous numbers” in the gym. “He was lifting so much they asked him to slow down,” Manly teammate James Hilterbrand recalled. “They said he was strong enough.” In 2021 Gleeson returned to the Marlins only to injure his knee in a trial against Randwick. Given he was still part of the Waratahs strength and conditioning program Gleeson spent his time effectively lifting weights. Max Douglas, another Manly teammate believes that enforced time out was almost a blessing. “He didn’t play much. He just got stronger and stronger.” Wallaby coach Dave Rennie first sighted Gleeson when he was in camp with the 2021 Australian U20s and described him as “a standout”.
The following year Gleeson made his Waratahs debut against the Reds however it was a decision to rest Jed Holloway and Charlie Gamble for the R15 clash with the Highlanders that proved fortuitous for Gleeson where he announced himself with a barnstorming performance. That parlayed into a selection for the Australia A program, from where he emerged as the form player of the Pacific Nations Cup with “brutal displays” against Fiji and Tonga. His “clubbing runs into and through the defence” were simply “too eye-catching to ignore” and they won him a place on the Wallabies’ end-of-season Spring Tour. Gleeson’s fairytale year continued when he was a late inclusion into the Scotland match day squad for the injured Pete Samu and then ran on to Murrayfield for his debut Test.
2022 Gleeson won his first Test cap off the bench when he replaced Rob Valetini at No.8 in the 75th minute of the 16-15 win over Scotland. Gleeson earned a second replacement cap against Italy before he made his run-on debut, one that Welsh fullback Josh Adams won’t forget in a hurry, in the 39-34 victory against Wales in Cardiff.