Brett Sturgess has spoken of his delight after agreeing terms on a new deal that will take him into a ninth season with the Exeter Chiefs.
Having joined back in 2007 from Irish province Connacht, the 31-year-old forward is the latest member of Rob Baxter's current squad to extend his stay at Sandy Park.
A key figure in the club's rise out of the Championship and into the Aviva Premiership, Sturgess – who has agreed a new one-year deal – has to date played 166 games for the Devon club, scoring ten tries in the process.
Commenting on his new deal, Sturgess said: "I'm really pleased to have signed for another year with the Chiefs. This year it's taken a bit longer than normal to sort things, simply because it was more about understanding the role I'm going to play moving forward, but having spoken with Rob and thought about things, it's great that I'm going to be taking my career into a ninth year here.
"Next year is going to be huge, not just because the Premiership is getting even more competitive, but because we're going to be back in the Champions Cup again. To be competing at the top level, clubs need to have a big, quality squad and that's what we are building here at the Chiefs.”
A popular member of the first-team squad, Sturgess has seen at first-hand how the Chiefs have transformed themselves into a notable force, not just here in England, but also across Europe since their elevation into the top tier back in 2010
"Each year we've been in the Premiership we have improved year on year – and it's been great to be part of the rise of the club,” added Sturgess. "Personally, I'm chuffed to bits to be staying and so are my family. We've made a real life for ourselves down here in Exeter and the friends I've made since being with the club will last me a lifetime.
"As a player it's important to have that stable environment around you and it's been great that there are still a good number of us who have made that step up from the Championship together. We've been through a lot together over the years and it's going to be great to be part of it still moving forward.”
Although game time has been somewhat limited for Sturgess since he injured his knee in the final minute of Exeter's 'Big Game 6' encounter with Harlequins at Twickenham in December 2014, the talented loose-head forward still remains very much part of Baxter's long-term plans.
"This is the first time I've had a year contract since I moved to Exeter in that first year, but I've seen how some of the other guys have done on similar deals,” said Sturgess. "They are as hungry as ever and they seem to be thriving. I'm not looking at just seeing out this next year, I want to work as hard as I can and keep adding to things.
"It's been tough this year not playing as much as I would have liked, but you have to give credit to Moony and Rims, both of whom have both been playing very well. However, having had that break after the injury, I feel stronger than ever. I know with a good pre-season behind me, I can really get stuck into next season because it's going to be another massive year for the club.”
And although Sturgess says there is still plenty to play for this season, he can't help but look to next term when the Chiefs will be back in European club rugby's top competition for a third time in six years.
"Being back in the Champions Cup is fantastic for the club,” he added. "I think if you ask players, it's the next best thing to playing at international level. I've been fortunate to have played in the old Heineken Cup against the likes of Leinster, Toulon and Clermont and I know what that meant, not just to us as players, but to everyone at the club and the supporters.
"It will be great to be back playing against the top sides in Europe again and seeing Sandy Park packed out for those games.”