HERBIE STUPPLE is keen to put three years of injury hell behind him and take on a leadership role at Plymouth Albion.
The 24-year-old back-row forward is the only survivor from director of rugby Graham Dawe’s first spell at Albion.
Stupple joined Plymouth initially as a dual-registered player in 2011, alongside fellow Exeter Chiefs youngsters Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Addsion Lockley and Jon Vickers.
Nowell, Slade and Cowan-Dickie have become Premiership regulars and are now in the England squad with hopes of competing at this year’s World Cup, Lockley has been at top French club Biarritz and has now just joined Tarbes, while Vickers is at Championship side Nottingham.
But Stupple’s career has stalled due to a host of serious injuries since joining Albion permanently in 2012.
He has broken his shoulder, suffered severe concussion, needed career-saving surgery on an ankle injury and, to top it all, broke his leg last season.
Many players would have thrown in the towel by now, but Stupple, who has made just 10 league starts in three seasons, is determined to get back to his best and try and help Albion rebuild following their relegation to National One.
And he feels with all his experience, both good and bad, he can be someone the younger players at the club can look up to.
“I’m only 24 but I’m about the second oldest here now,” said Stupple. “There are all these youngsters here showing what they can do.
“But this is the first year where I would like to have more of a leadership role.
“I want to lead people. I want to give something back as I have not been able to do it for the last four or so years.
“I have always wanted to have a leadership role and hopefully this year I have started doing it.
“Out of all the people currently here, I have probably got the most experience.”
Stupple, one of just five players from last season’s squad who have so far committed themselves to another year at Brickfields, really wants a big season, not just for himself but for Albion.
“I wanted to stay on because they (Albion) have been paying me for the last four or so years when they could have just binned me off,” said Stupple, who was the club’s young player of the year in 2011/12.
“They have been nothing but brilliant to me. They have stuck by their word on everything.
“I live just down the road in Cornwall – there’s a few of us from there now – and I love it here.
“The whole atmosphere is good. Boys want to be here and we are all loving it and having a good time. We are just looking forward to playing now.”
Stupple added: “I think this has been the first pre-season in three or four years that I have started fully fit and ready to go.
“I feel good and fresh and I’m looking forward to the season.”
Stupple admits it has been tough at times for him.
“It has,” he said. “I did go through a stage last season after I had broken my leg that I thought that might be it. I didn’t know if I could mentally cope with it (long-term injury) again.
“But I still thought there were glimpses of me when I did get to play that I was doing really well.
“I thought to myself that I can’t just finish.
“I still feel I have the ability to play at this level and higher and so I am going to give it another go and crack on.
“The only good thing for me is that each injury has been a different one. It has never been the same thing.
“If it was the ankle still playing me up then I might have to think about it (giving up), but it’s not, it is always something totally different.
“I have tried new things. I have talked to our sports psychologist here to see what I can do to make myself better again and to look after myself a bit more.
“Maybe I do have to change the style of the way I play because something has not been working to have all these injuries.
“But I’m confident the season will be good and I can get back to the way I used to play again.”
He added: “I have gone through so much and also had other things outside rugby. It has been quite tough for me but I am really confident. I’m just happy to be back fit and running around again.
“I just hope the team does well.”