The Premier League is back, and it’s not controversial at all. Not one bit.
OK, so there was that one thing, where the PDC killed all those puppies. Or they decided to replace Gary Anderson with one-off games featuring rising stars and local heroes. From the social media reaction, it was hard to tell which one of those decisions they took. The grumblings will die down once the Premier League kicks off in earnest. It does so on Thursday night in Newcastle, where a passionate crowd in the North-East will feast on five fantastic fixtures.
Of every player competing this year, none have featured in the Premier League more times than Raymond van Barneveld or James Wade. Barney embarks on a record 14th campaign. It’ll also be his last. The decision to include the Dutch legend was met with widespread fury, so he needs strong early performances to prove the doubters wrong. Wade, after a year out, is back for a tenth showing. The Machine put in a calm performance at the Masters, opening the season by reaching the final. He and his counterparts may see world number 28 van Barneveld as cannon fodder; a failure to win here would cast doubt on his chances over the season. Even in the very first match of the Premier League, the pressure is already on.
Gerwyn Price is about to get his second chance. Not just at the Premier League, which he was dumped out of unceremoniously last year, but at top level darts itself. The DRA has levied a serious fine against the Welshman, and he’ll now need to review his actions on the oche. A calmer Price might still have to deal with hostile crowds for a bit. The Iceman opens his Premier League comeback against Daryl Gurney, who after his own flashpoint at the 2017 Grand Prix has matured into a calm, consistent contender. The Northern Irishman will definitely fancy a crack at the play-offs this year.
In the third game, it’s not Gary Anderson against Mensur Suljovic. The Austrian is the first to face a ‘contender’, the PDC’s solution to the Flying Scotsman’s unfortunate withdrawal. Chris Dobey steps into the void left by the world number four. A Bedlington lad, Dobey will be sure to have the Newcastle crowd firmly on his side. That being said, Suljovic himself is always popular. More importantly, he is unflappable, except when he’s unable to produce the darts he’s capable of. Dobey is after a one-off £5,000 prize; Suljovic chases two important points on the road to not just surviving – which he couldn’t do in 2018 – but thriving.
Ally Pally reunion
On January 1, 2019, Michael van Gerwen took on Michael Smith. The prize at stake was the biggest of them all, the World Championship. Just over a month on, they meet again with Premier League points to be allocated. Van Gerwen won that Ally Pally clash, and went on to take the Masters crown too. He is looking at his fearsome, unstoppable best. Yet Smith is rightly confident going into this season. A finalist last year in this event (again, van Gerwen was too big a roadblock), Bully Boy will be targeting another play-off place. On paper, this is definitely the tie of the night.
Rob Cross and Peter Wright are the closest-matched players on paper. They’re the second and third best players in the world respectively, according to the Order of Merit. Thanks to Anderson’s exit, they’re probably the second and third best players taking part in the Premier League. But the game is played on the oche, not on paper, and the pair need to assert themselves. There’s no better way to do that than beating a close rival. Snakebite heads into this tie with – you won’t believe this – a new setup. Will it last the night? We’ll have to just wait and see.
Night One schedule
James Wade v Raymond van Barneveld
Gerwyn Price v Daryl Gurney
Chris Dobey v Mensur Suljovic
Michael van Gerwen v Michael Smith
Peter Wright v Rob Cross
Author: Ed McCosh