Guest article by Tarriq Ibrahim (@tarriqibrahim), a preview to the upcoming Premier League.
Let’s get this darting show on the road!
Cancel any plans you have for the next sixteen Thursdays’ because the return of the Betway Premier League is nigh where over a 16-week period we will be treated to the tastiest tungsten as ten of the PDC’s finest arrowsmen hit the UK’s and Ireland’s biggest indoor sporting arenas in pursuit of Finals Night and lifting the prestigious title at the O2 on May 21st.
This year’s line-up, arguably the strongest assembled in the competition’s 10-year history, sees the return of ‘The Machine’ James Wade after his controversial omission in 2014 and includes two debutants, former Lakeside champion Stephen Bunting and the Belgian ‘Hurricane’ Kim Huybrechts.
The three men making way being Simon Whitlock, Wes Newton and perhaps harshly, Robert Thornton.
Wade will be looking to overcome the disappointment of suffering an early exit at the recent World Championships after his prior resurgence in form and as a Premier League winner in 2009 and runner-up in 2010, you would be mad to bet against him reaching the Top 4.
Conqueror of Wade in those World Championships was Stephen Bunting, who coincidentally face-off in week one. Stephen has enjoyed a remarkable year since switching from the BDO, bulleting his way up the PDC rankings to no.24 in the space of just 12 months and performing brilliantly in virtually all the TV tournaments, his extraordinary rise making him a nailed on wildcard selection.
Fellow debutant Kim Huybrechts was a somewhat more controversial choice in some people’s eyes when weighed up against other contenders such as Thornton, King, Jenkins etc. but you can understand why he gained selection when you take into account the classy displays he put in at the Grand Slam particularly when destroying Michael van Gerwen and throwing a 9-darter en route to the semi-finals.
His quick style of throw will be a guaranteed crowd pleaser and his antagonising of Phil Taylor at the Alexandra Palace with his jubilant celebrations where he narrowly lost 4-3 probably did his cause no harm either; we all love a bit of needle on the oche and it’s bound to be hyped up by Sky.
As for the rest of the field, newly crowned World Champion Gary Anderson will have to get used to being the man they all want to beat as he looks to follow up his world’s triumph with a second Premier League title, and who does he face in week one, only the man he defeated in the Ally Pally finale, Phil Taylor.
‘The Power’ had a nightmare start to his campaign last time out coinciding with his rapid weight loss and whilst acclimatising to his new Target darts, yet he still managed to reach the final stages and no-one would put it past him to repeat the feat as he chases a super seventh Premier League win.
Despite his semi-final exit at the World Championships, Michael van Gerwen remains top dog in the rankings and should be brimming with confidence after his imperious Masters victory at the weekend. He will be out to show the rest who’s still best as he attempts to go one better than last year when he lost to reigning holder Raymond van Barneveld.
Barney is ranked as an outsider by many of the bookies which is surprising when you consider how consistent he was throughout his successful 2014 campaign, often feeding off the ‘Barney Army’, but with RVB it’s all about whether he can keep his head straight, if he does then watch out.
The Premier League trophy has so far remained elusive for Adrian Lewis who has been an ever present since 2007. A losing finalist in the Players Championships in December and unlucky loser at the world’s to the aforementioned van Barneveld, Lewis looks close to his best and if he can sustain that form expect him to be challenging right to the death.
If the new boys Bunting and Huybrechts need any reminder of the impact of appearing in the Premier League can have they only need to look towards Peter Wright for inspiration.
The colourful Scotsman headed the table for several weeks, but narrowly missed out on the 02, the consolation being that he gained himself a whole new army of fans who are certain to be out in force once again to hopefully inspire ‘Snakebite’ and ensure the party doesn’t stop until week sixteen.
The players first goal will be to avoid the dreaded drop on ‘Judgement Night’ in Manchester during week nine when the bottom two participants will be eliminated from the competition, a fate that Dave Chisnall narrowly avoided on his debut in 2014.
A final placing of 7th was a decent first effort for ‘Chizzy’ and one that he will hope to eclipse as a now established Premier League player. Play as he did in his two Masters appearances on Saturday and Sunday and a Top 4 finish isn’t out of the question.
As well as Anderson v Taylor in week one, other stand-outs in the first few weeks will be a homecoming for Stephen Bunting in Liverpool where he similarly clashes with Taylor and a trip to the Emerald Isle for the darts in Dublin, always a highlight of the Premier League calendar.
May the best man win, literally.
Week One fixtures (First Direct Arena, Leeds)
Dave Chisnall v Peter Wright
Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis
Kim Huybrechts v Michael van Gerwen
Gary Anderson v Phil Taylor
Stephen Bunting v James Wade
Tarriq Ibrahim @tarriqibrahim