It’s that time of year again. The darts roadshow that is the Premier League is about to launch into full swing as the whole of the Britain and Ireland is treated to weekly titanic tungsten tussles by the finest protagonists in the game.
But this year the Premier League has been extended into Europe to cater for the fanatic appetite of Dutch darts. Week 15 of this years tournament will take place at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, where world number one Michael van Gerwen and five-time World champion Raymond van Barneveld will be roared on by their home support.
Defending champion Gary Anderson will be hoping to follow up his defence of his World Championship crown at Alexandra Palace in January by retaining his Premier League title. As ever though it will be no easy task with the likes of the nigh-unstoppable Van Gerwen, the ever-competitive Peter Wright and 16-time World Champion and six-time Premier League winner Phil Taylor among the challengers for the Flying Scotsman’s crown.
The action begins on Thursday night at the First Direct Arena in Leeds and will play out every week until the Play Offs at The O2 in London on May 19. The two players at the bottom of the table after Judgement Night on week nine will be eliminated, leaving the remaining eight to battle it out for a place in the final four.
WEEK ONE – First Direct Arena, Leeds
Gary Anderson P-P Adrian Lewis
As ever, a rematch of the World Championship final was scheduled for week one of the Premier League as Adrian Lewis seeks revenge on the man who denied him a third world title at Alexandra Palace.
However illness has ruled Anderson out of action on opening night, meaning we will have to wait for this eagerly anticipated clash.
Peter Wright v Michael Smith
Young star Michael Smith is set to make his Premier League debut and faces a tough test on the opening night against experienced campaigner Peter Wright.
Former World Championship finalist Wright will hope to fare better this year than he did during last years Premier League campaign. The Scotsman was one of the two eliminated after week nine after picking up just one win. He performed well in the Unibet Masters at the weekend, beating Ian White in the first round before falling to a narrow 10-9 defeat to Phil Taylor.
Smith is hoping to build on his impressive World Championship campaign where he fell agonisingly short in the quarter-finals to an inspired comeback from Van Barneveld. His power scoring makes him a threat and a man to watch over the coming weeks.
Prediction: Wright to win
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
Dutchman Van Gerwen was looking almost unstoppable at the World Championships until he came across a Van Barneveld who rolled back the years to knock out his compatriot in the third round. Van Gerwen won virtually everything going in 2015 and has continued in the same vain, surviving a classic encounter with Phil Taylor before defeating Dave Chisnall to clinch the Unibet Masters title.
The brilliant Dutchman won the Premier League back in 2013 and fell at the final hurdle last time around, losing to Anderson in last years final. He enters the tournament as firm favourite to win the competition and is the man all others will be aiming to take down.
It all rather depends which James Wade turns up. As a multiple major-winner, and 2009 Premier League champion, Wade has the pedigree to match anyone in the game on his day but his fluctuating form continues to be a concern. He played reasonably well at the weekend, losing in the semi-finals to Dave Chisnall, and will fancy his chances of being in and around the final four come the business end of the tournament.
Prediction: Van Gerwen to win
Phil Taylor v Raymond van Barneveld
Arguably the game of the night, the two most decorated players in darts almost always deliver heavyweight contests.
Taylor ended a disappointing World Championship campaign with defeat to Jelle Klaasen having changed his darts prior to the start of the competition. He insisted he would stick with them but, a week ahead of the Premier League, the tungsten tinkerman has tweaked his equipment once again. Many will question the wisdom of such regular changes as The Power seeks to regain his form, but Taylor performed well over the weekend, surging ahead of Van Gerwen in the semi-finals before missing seven match darts as he slipped to defeat. Such displays will raise confidence but the proof will be how well he can consistently deliver on the big stage week after week.
Van Barneveld has struggled for consistent form over recent years but has been able to produce his best performances at the crucial moments. He stormed to the 2014 Premier League and produced his A-game to shock the world by knocking Van Gerwen out of this years World Championships. The quality remains and the Dutchman will believe he can take down his old rival Taylor on opening night.
Dave Chisnall v Robert Thornton
This match pits in-form Chisnall against the ever-tenacious Scotsman Robert Thornton in a rematch of an incredible game during last weekends Unibet Masters. Thornton blazed into an 8-0 lead before Chisnall launched a remarkable comeback, eventually triumphing 10-9 on his way to making the final. This Premier League opener gives Thornton an early chance for revenge and adds spice to this encounter.
Chisnall was exceptional during last years tournament, finishing second in the final table before suffering a narrow 10-9 semi-final defeat to eventual champion Gary Anderson. He is a consistent performer and his scoring ability makes Chisnall a dangerous opponent in every tournament. He will have been disappointed to have exited the World Championships at the third round and will be targeting the Premier League as a chance to make amends.
Thornton has a point to prove that no other player in this years tournament has – that is that he deserves to be in the competiton. A few eyebrows were raised when the lineup was announced, with many suggesting that the Scot was fortunate to have been included ahead of the likes of Jelle Klaasen. He wasn’t in last years competition and has never finished higher than fifth in the Premier League. But, as a former World Grand Prix winner and a consistent top ten player, Thornton boasts the quality to mix it with the big boys on the main stage and shouldn’t be underestimated in this competition.
Prediction: Chisnall to win
Michael Smith v Adrian Lewis
As if making your Premier League debut wasn’t daunting enough, the withdrawal of Anderson means young Smith has to play twice in Leeds. After taking on Wright earlier in the evening, ‘Bully Boy’ will face two-time world champion Adrian Lewis at the end of the night.
Lewis will be desperate to improve on a poor recent record in the competition, having failed to make the play-offs since reaching the 2011 final and will hope to get off to a strong start here. He does however come in to the game off the back of a disappointing performance at the first big tournament of the year at the Unibet Masters, losing in the first round at the hands of Kim Huybrechts.
Prediction: Lewis to win