The new format of the Premier League Darts competition gets a first airing on Thursday evening when the eight stars of the tournament play out the first weekly qualifying event inside the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.
The format for these Premier League nights is now four quarter finals, two semi-finals and a final with the players playing for league points within these events as well as a tidy £10,000 bonus for winning that night. Time restrictions mean we’ve no chance of previewing the semi-finals and final but we’ll go through the quarter finals here.
Jonny Clayton vs Joe Cullen
The opening match of the new Premier League Darts season sees the defending champion Jonny Clayton getting his title defence underway when he takes on the most recent tournament winner in The Masters champion Joe Cullen.
Over a long format you would make Clayton a huge favourite in front of his home crowd but that advantage might be lessened slightly in a race to six, especially against a Cullen who should be buzzing after his win in Milton Keynes at the weekend, and who might consider this a free hit given how late he made it into the field. Clayton looked in pretty decent order at the weekend before going down in the semi-final so I don’t expect there to be much in this. The fact Clayton has the throw would probably mean he is a worthy favourite but not one which is value.
Gerwyn Price vs James Wade
The second match of the evening sees the world number one Gerwyn Price making his return to the Premier League Darts stage when he takes on the man who replaced him in the field last year in World Championship semi-finalist James Wade.
Price was forced to miss the tournament last season due to Covid so he’ll be itching to make his mark on the campaign here, especially in front of his home fans. Wade is in the draw by right this season after rising to number four in the world and will be looking to show his worth but you’ve got to think he’s going to be up against it here with the crowd likely to be behind Price. That said the format is short enough that if Wade can show his class for 15 minutes he can beat anyone. With the throw and the crowd Price does look unopposable here though.
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Peter Wright vs Michael Smith
The penultimate quarter final in the opening night of the new season is a repeat of the world final from exactly a month ago when the newly crowned world champion Peter Wright takes on the man who he beat to claim that success in Michael Smith.
Smith is back in the Premier League after missing last season and now that he is up to world number five he’ll be looking to show he belongs in this company, and it goes without saying that he’ll be full of motivation to get some revenge on Wright for that world final defeat. The big issue I have with Smith here though is missed doubles. You won’t get away with it in a best of 11, especially one when you don’t have the throw. Wright was largely pathetic at The Masters at the weekend, averaging 96 in a rough defeat to Simon Whitlock, however it is a sign of how good he has become that he looks terrible averaging 96. He tried new darts in that tournament but I would imagine he’ll be back with the tried and tested ones for this evening and with the throw and that extra bit of quality at the end of legs I think Wight will begin his campaign with a win against a Smith who hit just 8/34 on the doubles in his defeat to Dave Chisnall at The Masters.
Michael van Gerwen vs Gary Anderson
The last of the quarter finals sees two familiar foes locking horns attempting to make it into the opening night semi-finals when Michael van Gerwen takes on Gary Anderson in a clash which is fairly regular but in which the drama and quality has lessened over the last couple of years.
Both men have something to prove both over the course of this evening and in the tournament as a whole. Van Gerwen needs to start getting back to winning big tournaments again and getting that aura about him to return whereas Anderson needs to play regularly and find some consistency. He got drubbed at the weekend and while his successor Joe Cullen went on to win the tournament, 10-1 beatings with a 91 average isn’t the sort of form you want going into this event. To be fair, MVG should have lost his opening match in Milton Keynes and was then sent packing by Cullen in the next game so both these men need to find their best darts again. While they do that I’m happy to leave this one alone.
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