The Premier League is back again, and it is more exciting than ever.

The annual ten-man showdown now has a unique place in darts. It is not a major, according to most. Yet it is constantly a conversation piece, even in the midst of the World Championship. For PDC players, the Premier League is something to strive for. Ten have made it, but only one can be champion.

The 2018 event brings with it plenty of intrigue. Four debutants enter the fray, with four 2017 participants and two returning players completing the line-up. Coming up is a fantastic run of Thursday night clashes. First up is a meeting in Dublin. Our experts have had their say; but how will it pan out in Ireland? The action kicks off at 7pm on Sky Sports.

Mensur Suljovic vs Simon Whitlock

Mensur Suljovic is only three years younger than Simon Whitlock. But, in darting terms, he has a lot of catching up to do. Suljovic was a relative unknown when Whitlock became Premier League runner-up in 2012. Now the Austrian is the world number six, and the favourite to win this tie. But, as a debutant, he does not have the experience the Australian does. This match was the only one that more than one of our VIPs predicted to be a draw. That’s how close it is.

Gary Anderson vs Michael Smith

The student versus the master. Gary Anderson and Michael Smith normally produce something very similar when they meet. Namely an excellent high-scoring tussle which Anderson wins at a canter. But Smith will want to do better than his 10th place finish in 2016. The Flying Scotsman’s back pain adds to the suspense.

Daryl Gurney vs Raymond van Barneveld

An old master takes on a newcomer in the third clash. Raymond van Barneveld comes into this game on somewhat of a hot streak. The five-time world champion has only been stopped by Michael van Gerwen in each of his last two majors. The Dutchman got a wildcard by being massively popular, but may well back it up on the board. Gurney comes into the Premier League having lost in the first round of the Masters, and after defeat to John Henderson at the Ally Pally. Two crowd favourites meet in Dublin; who they choose may make a huge difference.

Michael van Gerwen vs Rob Cross

The last time they met, they put on one of the greatest darts matches of all time. Is it too much to ask that Michael van Gerwen and Rob Cross do the same again? It is an excellent quirk of the schedule that the two favourites go head-to-head on week one. Van Gerwen has the chance to gain revenge for that World Championship semi-final heartbreak. He is in the best possible form, having stormed to Masters victory last weekend. Cross has claimed it will take him time to get to his best in the Premier League. You could be forgiven for ignoring him entirely. This is the match that everyone will be ready for.

Peter Wright vs Gerwyn Price

Following van Gerwen versus Cross seems a bit of a raw deal for Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price. But the pair could put on quite the show. In a repeat of the 2017 UK Open final, Snakebite looks to repair last year’s woes in style. But Price is a man made for the big stage: brash, confident and full of quality. He believes he can compete for the title. Naturally, so does Wright. Unless the pair fight out a draw – which is quite possible – only one campaign can get off to the right start.

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Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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Author: Edward McCosh