The PDC Premier League Darts returns on Thursday night with Dublin hosting the opening night of the 14th renewal of the weekly event.
Of the ten players picked for the competition, we have four debutants. They are World Champion Rob Cross, World Grand Prix winner Daryl Gurney, Champions League winner Mensur Suljovic and UK Open runner-up Gerwyn Price.
Simon Whitlock and Michael Smith return after an absence in the event for their sixth and second appearances respectively.
The field is then made up of Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright, Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld.
The first nine weeks are crucial because after all the players have faced each other once the bottom two are eliminated, so the ninth week in Belfast could be a tense night of tungsten.
For finals night at the O2 Arena, the semi-finals will be first vs fourth and second vs third for a place in the final.
All matches are best of 12 legs with the draw being a possible outcome, so it’s two points for a win and one for a draw.
Michael van Gerwen defeated Peter Wright 11-10 in a tense final that saw ‘Snakebite’ spurn numerous match darts to claim the title.
Those two finished in the top two of the weekly standings, so it was a fitting final and that win gave the Dutchman his third Premier League crown.
With relegation in the mix as well as the outright winner there are plenty of markets to get stuck into and here are a few of those that are worth getting involved with.
Michael van Gerwen is the odds-on favourite to add a fourth Premier League crown to his growing trophy collection.
The world number one has featured in each of the last five finals and once he gets to the latter stages of this competition it feels pretty inevitable what the outcome will be.
After his semi-final exit at the World Championship, ‘Mighty Mike’ has seemingly put the hours in to see if he can reach another level.
The Dutchman has already set a high bar with his performances he put in during the Masters, in which he lifted the trophy.
He averaged 111.14 in his 10-2 quarter-final win over James Wade and, after beating Raymond van Barneveld 11-9 in the final, he recorded a tournament average of 105.4.
Those games are of course longer than these and this shorter format doesn’t allow for any margin of error, not something that should pose MvG a problem given he’s only lost six matches in the last three Premier League competitions during the regular season.
Gary Anderson has reached the Premier League final twice and won on both occasions but the last one of those came in 2015 when defeating MvG to take the trophy.
The Scotsman is a big scorer and he’ll be one to look out for in most 180 market throughout however for the longevity of this competition I wouldn’t want to be going near him from an ante-post perspective.
The 47-year-old has been struggling with a back problem for a number of months and he’s been receiving on-going physio but that issue hasn’t seemed to have settled down, as he was in discomfort during the Masters last weekend.
For half an hour each week, he might be able to get away with it but it is a concern he can’t seem to shift the problem and after we saw Adrian Lewis require back surgery there might be a case Anderson could follow a similar path.
Peter Wright will be looking to build on a satisfactory 12-months but he’ll have been kicking himself after squandering darts to defeat MvG in last year’s final.
The UK Open winner had an early exit in the World Championships when outplayed by Jamie Lewis in the second round, however ‘Snakebite’ had spent time in hospital, which affected his practice.
He looked as if he’d lost a bit of weight during the Masters last weekend and if he is fully over those problems in the early weeks then he’ll threaten MvG once more but I just feel he lacks something in his game to topple the likes of MvG and maybe even Cross.
Not many knew about Rob Cross before the World Championships last month but he finished it with the globe knowing his name.
‘Voltage’ would never have dreamt of his first year on tour going that well and with that success he finds himself sitting as the third best player in the world.
Prior to the majors last year, Cross spoke of how he knew he could become world champion and world number one. Well, he’s ticked one of those boxes already, so this year he’ll be on a mission to close MvG at the top of the Order of Merit.
However, when you listen to the former electrician there is plenty of confidence in his own ability. He can easily go through games averaging 100+ and being ruthless on his doubles – if he hits his best form then he could end the MvG recent dominance in the Premier League.
In the Pro-Tour last year he was very successful and that format is not too dissimilar, so that won’t be an issue. He doesn’t seem like a man who’ll get complacent and with how he played in his debut year then he’ll have a big say on the shape of this event.
The obvious winner is van Gerwen but I’ve had a bit on Raymond van Barneveld.
The experienced Dutchman will be making his 13th appearance in the competition – the joint most alongside Phil Taylor – but he has only won it once surprisingly given the quality he possesses.
He can be mentally fragile but if he starts well then he’ll find his groove and go from strength to strength.
During the Masters, he reached the final where he put in a number of high-quality performances, including his 10-2 quarter-final victory over Peter Wright where he averaged 103.51.
One of the best things about his game over the weekend was how relaxed he looked because it makes his throw look so smooth and it’s a sight to behold when it’s all in sync.
With everything seemingly well in his personal life, and after his showing at the weekend, then the quoted odds on him winning this event are far too big.
One thing ‘Barney’ didn’t do last year was draw matches. He drew just two of the 16 he played where he may have let a few get away from him because of that confidence and mentality.
If he applies himself like we know he can then I’d have him in the top four, which makes him worth a go in the outright market.
Debutants Daryl Gurney and Mensur Suljovic are all quality players and will pose problems throughout.
Gurney can be hit and miss. Despite winning the World Grand Prix, I still think he’s finding his feet on the big stage and if you put pressure on him early he seems to crumble.
Suljovic will be a very tricky opponent and will take plenty of points but he can be a slow starter and if losing the first two or three legs on a regular basis then he could struggle to claw those legs back and turn them into wins or even draws.
Simon Whitlock returns to the Premier League after a three-year absence and the Australian is favourite to finish bottom.
His only bit of meaningful form is reaching the final of the decimated World Grand Prix, so I haven’t really read too much into that tournament in terms of meaningful form.
He’s 8th in the Order of Merit and enters this as a wildcard pick yet for me it was his spot that was the least secure with the likes of regulars Dave Chisnall and James Wade missing out plus you’ve had the big performers from the Worlds to consider in Youth champion Dimitri van den Bergh and Jamie Lewis.
It’s no surprise to see ‘The Wizard’ at an odds-on price to be relegated but it’s about right with his lack of form and his doubling has been off for some time.
The first round exit at the Masters to James Wade did little to enhance his claims of survival, especially after missing 13 darts at doubles – those will have to improve against the bigger players, who will give him few chances on the outer ring.
It’s the other spot that is up for grabs and you can argue a sound case for either Gerwyn Price or Michael Smith being eliminated after nine matches.
Smith has been here before, back in 2016 when he finished bottom of the table after nine weeks with just one win.
However, there are signs that ‘Bully Boy’ is coming to the boil and in tournaments, in the back end of last year he was in situations where he’d have mentally cracked yet dug-in and prevailed in matches.
That maturity is there with the man from St Helens and he can try to turn those negative experiences into positive ones.
He’s still got to prove the doubters wrong. I do believe there is still untapped potential in the 27-year-old but he’s yet to show why everyone rated him so highly as he entered the circuit.
This is Price’s first go in the Premier League and he’ll be here to ruffle a few feathers. He and Anderson have previous after the Scot called him ‘a clown’ during last year’s World Series Finals and there was some needle when this two meet in the Masters last weekend.
The former Rugby player has swiftly climbed to 12th in the Order of Merit but when looking through his records against his nine rivals, Price only has two favourable ones.
He holds the H2H advantage over Suljovic and Gurney but has never beat MvG in 11 attempts while he’s only recorded four wins against Wright, Anderson and Barney in 16 tries.
‘The Iceman’ is still a developing player but he’s struggled to make an impact against the big boys as those stats prove. He was given a chance in last year’s World Series where he reached two semi-finals and this is a big opportunity for him to prove he’s a player with top ten or higher credentials.
His antics on the oche may provide some entertainment, in terms of needle with his opponent, and that is arguably earned him his inclusion because when it comes to majors he has a pretty dismal record – the UK Open final last year is the only one currently on his resume – something he’ll need to improve this year, especially if misfiring players like Adrian Lewis, Dave Chisnall and James Wade start to hit form.
For me, the market has this spot on. Whitlock the most likely to get relegated given how scratchy his doubling can be under pressure while it’s Price who I can’t see handling with the top tungsten talent week after week.
Price will need to be picking up points against those likely to be around him in order to survive but if one man were to get dragged into it then it’d Daryl Gurney.
I’m not totally sold by him yet and after losing to Price in the first round of the Masters suggests the Northern Irishman needs to have put plenty of time in on the board to find that high-level of performance.
At 4/1 Gurney would be a speculative punt to be relegated but I’m much more confident in saying Whitlock and Price will be the pair facing elimination on Judgement Night in Belfast.
One special that caught my eye was on the William Hill website for Most 180s in the first nine weeks of the tournament.
We all know the scoring capabilities of MvG, who tops the betting at 4/1, but I’d be tempted by the price on Michael Smith.
In three groups games at the Grand Slam he rattled in 11 over a similar format to this.
One thing I have noticed about ‘Bully Boy’ is that his scoring has been stronger and his first dart is more consistently finding the T20 bed, so if finding a rhythm early on in matches then he is well worth a go in this market.
Raymond van Barneveld to Win (40/1)
Gerwyn Price to be Relegated (6/5)
Michael Smith Most 180s in first 9 weeks (8/1 – William Hill)
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