The NZ Darts Masters is the final chance for players to book a World Series of Darts Finals spot.

It also carries with it another £60,000 prize pot, with £20,000 going to the winner. Last time out, Michael van Gerwen took the top prize in Melbourne. With the trophy floodgates back open, Mighty Mike will be aiming to take the inaugural NZ Darts Masters crown. 15 players will be out to stop him.

The first of those 15 to take to the Hamilton stage are James Wade and Craig Caldwell. Wade is the defending World Series of Darts Finals champion, but has had a torrid time Down Under. In Brisbane, he lost narrowly to Damon Heta; the Machine was then thrashed by the same man in Melbourne. Former World Cup player Caldwell has been regularly spotted at the Lakeside but hasn’t appeared in the World Series in New Zealand since 2015, when he was subject to a 6-0 hiding by Phil Taylor.

Simon Whitlock’s World Series season has been a mixed bag. The Wizard looked nailed on to go the distance in Brisbane, but was undone by an even darker horse in Damon Heta. A Melbourne run was put to a stop by Daryl Gurney. Away from a home crowd, the Aussie will now be aiming for NZ Darts Masters success. In his way is Ben Robb, who took him to a deciding leg in Auckland last year.

David Platt is the first of what Daryl Gurney will hope is four Hamilton opponents. Superchin is fresh off a run to the Melbourne Darts Masters final, and he will want to make his mark early against the England-born Australian who appeared at the 2017 World Championship. Rob Cross was due to play Corey Cadby in the fourth game of the session; instead he’ll settle for Warren Parry, who famously stunned Michael van Gerwen at the 2014 Sydney Darts Masters.

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Tough test for Snakebite

Gary Anderson has reached two quarter-finals Down Under, and has lost both 8-6. While that’s a good omen for Michael van Gerwen or Kyle Anderson, it’s not so great for first round opponent Haupai Puha. The talented New Zealander will be glad of two things: he’s back on home soil, and he isn’t playing Raymond van Barneveld. The Flying Scotsman isn’t much of a consolation prize, mind.

The match following that one features a player in fantastic form, a bona fide winner who will be a major threat. There’s also Peter Wright. That might be a little harsh on Snakebite – after all, he’s the top seed, and was in sparkling form pre-World Matchplay. But more setup fiddling in Melbourne led to some dismal displays. Damon Heta, the standout star of this year’s World Series, will have an eye on a third successive first round shock at the NZ Darts Masters.

As mentioned previously, we could see another Michael van Gerwen verus Gary Anderson clash, or an Anderson-Anderson showdown. Of course, they could play Haupai Puha. Let’s not rule that one out. To start with, we can only hope that van Gerwen and Anderson can replicate their unforgettable European Championship semi-final showdown of yesteryear. MVG has momentum to build on, having won in Melbourne while Anderson was pummeled by Simon Whitlock.

As Raymond van Barneveld is on his way out of the professional games, there are lots of potential ‘lasts’. This time, it could be his last competitive game in Oceania, in the first ever NZ Darts Masters. Barney has comfortably navigated the first round so far, but this time he faces New Zealand’s number one. Cody Harris will have lots of backing and, based on his 2019 performances, will feel that he’s got more than enough firepower to send the Dutch icon home early.

Play starts at 7am UK time, with ITV4’s coverage starting 12 hours later.

Click here for more information about this tournament, including the prize money breakdown and the tournament schedule.

NZ Darts Masters, Day One schedule

James Wade v Craig Caldwell
Simon Whitlock v Ben Robb
Daryl Gurney v David Platt
Rob Cross v Warren Parry
Gary Anderson v Haupai Puha
Peter Wright v Damon Heta
Michael van Gerwen v Kyle Anderson
Raymond van Barneveld v Cody Harris
Best of 11 legs

Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

Photo: Pieter Verbeek/PV-Darts

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Author: Ed McCosh