The Premier League Darts is back, and things are going to be a bit different around here now.
For one, we have been shorn of a regular. Raymond van Barneveld has made his last hurrah in the Premier League Darts. Though thankfully, rumours of the demise of his career (what’s left of it) have been greatly exaggerated. We can also wave farewell to the contenders – for now. On to Belfast, then.
Though they’ll only see four games, the Northern Irish crowd could see them go on for longer. The match format is now best of 14 legs, in something resembling a European Tour final – though a 7-7 draw is a possibility.
Reboot time for the Machine
The last player to draw a Premier League Darts match 7-7 was James Wade, against Barney in 2012. It’s the Machine who kicks off Night Ten. It has been a rollercoaster week for Wade. He struck a nine-darter against James Wilson at the German Darts Championship, before somehow conspiring to lose. He then learned of his fate for an unwarranted but not altogether inexplicable abuse of Seigo Asada; the DRA had apparently lost the book that they threw at Gerwyn Price, so Wade copped the paperback version instead.
He meets Mensur Suljovic, a man one point and two places behind him. Suljovic has bounced back from a poor start to enter the second phase as a real play-off contender. He needs to bounce back quickly from a meek defeat to Daryl Gurney in Rotterdam.
Now van Barneveld is eliminated, Michael Smith picks up his wooden spoon. He is only four points off the play-offs, but the Bully Boy faces a major uphill battle if he is to be in London as he was a year ago.
He faces Peter Wright, who was in his shoes back in 2018. Snakebite didn’t recover from a slack start then, which will be a worry to both players. All they can do is keep winning. And this game, against – on paper – their weakest possible opponent, is a vital starting block.
We may have lost the contenders but their spirit will live on in Belfast. That’s because they have homegrown hero Daryl Gurney to get behind. Reaching this night was a huge motivation for the Derry ace. He came from nowhere to win three straight games, meaning he starts phase two in the play-off spots.
Rob Cross started the Premier League fairly slowly, but has taken up residence at the top of the table since. His tussle for top spot with Michael van Gerwen is the headline act of this second phase. But for a remarkable slip-up against Mensur Suljovic in Rotterdam, he’d be there now.
At the weekend, Gurney beat Cross en route to the German Darts Championship title. A year ago, in Belfast, Gurney also beat Cross. Then again, Cross has won the last two Premier League meetings between the pair, the most recent being a 7-1 shellacking in Exeter. Both have reasons to be confident.
The league leader ends the session. Michael van Gerwen is used to being top. He hasn’t had it all his way this year. But rather than strop and take his ball home, the world number one has consistently fought back. With back-to-back Rotterdam wins under his belt, the defending champion is in the ascendancy.
The opposite could be said for Gerwyn Price, who has plummeted down the league in recent times. A Night Nine win over Peter Wright, however, has got him back on track. He now needs to address his abysmal record against van Gerwen. Should he do so, he wouldn’t just put himself on course for the play-offs; he’d shake up the Premier League massively.
Click here for more information about the Premier League Darts, including all the fixtures and the prize fund breakdown.
Night Ten – Thursday April 4
The SSE Arena, Belfast
Mensur Suljovic v James Wade
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
Rob Cross v Daryl Gurney
Michael van Gerwen v Gerwyn Price
Author: Ed McCosh