It’s a brave new world for darts fans everywhere as the sport moves on without its greatest figurehead. For the first time in the Premier Leagues history, there will be no Phil Taylor stepping up to the oche, as exciting new contenders including reigning World Darts Champion Rob Cross jostle to become the game’s next great champion. Some things don’t change, however, with perennial Premier League stalwarts Michael Van Gerwen, Raymond Van Barneveld and Gary Anderson all back for 2018.
On February 1st, Premier League Darts is back and better than ever. Snaking across 16 cities over 4 months, this year’s tournament will see Germany host a round for the very first time, before it all comes to a close at London’s O2 Arena this May.
The opening round of matches will be held at the 3Arena in Dublin, and the draw has ensured we get fireworks from the outset. Michael van Gerwen’s defence of his title opens with a match against Rob Cross in a repeat of their epic World Championship semi-final in December.
Here’s a closer look at this year’s line up…
Michael van Gerwen
Best result: Winner – 2013, 2016, 2017
With a hattrick of Premier League title under his belt, van Gerwen understandably starts this tournament as a strong favourite. His price will have shortened a few more points after winning his fourth successive Masters title at the weekend. As a double defending Premier League champion, can van Gerwen make inroads on Phil Taylor’s four year winning streak between 2005 and 2008? Few would put it past him, but with a lot of interesting wildcards amongst this year’s pack, a trio of wins is not a racing certainty.
Best result: Runner-up, 2017
2017 marks Wright’s fifth appearance in the Premier League, but a maiden victory remains elusive for the colourful Scotsman, who agonisingly fell short in last year’s final against Van Gerwen. A disappointing second round exit at the PDC World Championship and a comprehensive loss to Van Barneveld at the weekend suggests a repeat performance of last year’s near-heroics may not be likely this time round.
Best result: N/A – debut year
The game’s new golden boy, Cross couldn’t have picked a better year to take the darts world by storm as the sport looks for someone to fill its Taylor-sized void. The 27-year-old is hotly tipped to follow-up his success at the World Championships and cement his growing reputation, but with little more than a year as a pro under his belt, this campaign will certainly test his credentials. The mantle of World Champion bring a whole new pressure and it will be interesting to see how Cross bounces back after a quarter-final defeat in the Masters, his first event since winning that title.
Best result: Winner – 2011, 2015
In a year where change seems to be in the air, it’s reassuring to have a wily old performer like Anderson still lighting up the tournament. A reliable presence at the Play Off phase in recent years, it would take a brave man to bet against Anderson not being one of the names still in the running come May. After losing out to Van Gerwen in 2017, the Scot will be chomping at the bit for revenge as he looks to secure a third Premier League title.
Best result: N/A, debut year
As with Cross, the Northern Irishman is a rookie at this tournament, but could be an inspired leftfield choice to make another major impression on the world of darts to follow up his victory at the 2017 World Grand Prix against Simon Whitlock. A tricky opponent for anyone on his day, Gurney still has plenty of time on his side even if this doesn’t prove to be a breakthrough year.
Best result: N/A, debut year
One of the most unorthodox players on the circuit in terms of his throwing style, ‘The Gentle’ made a name for himself by claiming the Champions League of Darts in 2017. Another new entrant to Premier League Darts, the Austrian isn’t fancied to be in the final mix-up, but in a year where so many new names are making their Premier League debut, it would be foolish to dismiss his chances completely.
Best result: Runner-up, 2012
The Wizard is back on the Premier League circuit after an absence of four years. A steady if unspectacular performer throughout his career, the Australian is a long-shot to make any kind of impression here, but don’t rule out the odd flash of brilliance to knock more illustrious opponents off their stride.
Raymond Van Barneveld
Best result: Winner, 2014
WIth his old adversary Taylor opting to leave the stage, Barney takes on his mantle as the Premier League’s grand old father figure. The oldest man in the field at 50, he has only tasted victory once in this tournament in 2014 yet looked in fine form at the weekend when reaching the final. A return to a last four berth is certainly a possibility for the Dutchman.
Best result: 10th, 2015
At 27, only Rob Cross can rival Smith in terms of bringing youthful vigour to this year’s tournament, but Smith has one advantage over some of his less experienced rivals in 2018 – he’s already had the benefit of a full round of Premier League Darts in 2016, finishing 10th. A player who can be brilliant one moment and lose concentration the next, it would be a surprise to see him in contention this time around.
Best result: N/A, debut year
Arguably the player with the most interesting story of any of the 2018 crop, Gerwyn Price has sporting prowess running through his veins, having originally played Pro12 rugby for Glasgow Warriors before switching to darts in 2014. The 32-year-old is the fourth debutant at Premier League level in the competition, but unlike Cross or Gurney, may be found wanting at an early stage in this elevated company.
Whilst it’s a tough call to say who will be taking home the £250,000 winner’s prize money come May, one thing is clear – this year’s Premier League Darts promises an intriguing blend of the old and the new. With reliable old stagers up against unknown quantities and breakthrough stars, we expect this could be one of the most exciting and unpredictable tournaments since Premier League Darts began 2005, and there’s certainly the potential for a leftfield surprise at the O2 Arena come May.
Week 1 Fixtures – 1st February
Mensur Suljovic v Simon Whitlock
Gary Anderson v Michael Smith
Daryl Gurney v Raymond van Barneveld
Michael van Gerwen v Rob Cross
Peter Wright v Gerwyn Price