Premier League Darts: What to expect from the PDC’s most prestigious tournament

The Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) 16-week roadshow returns this week, stopping by Manchester’s AO Arena on April 4th.

Eight players, hand-picked by the PDC, will take to the stage from February 1 for a tournament of mini tournaments over 16 consecutive Thursday nights, before the play-off finale in London in mid-May.

Immediately following the World Championship Final, it was announced that 17-year Luke Littler will make his debut in the event – becoming the youngest ever participant.

Alongside the teenage sensation will be World Champion and World number one Luke Humphries, reigning and seven-time winner Michael Van Gerwen, last year’s runner-up Gerywn Price, as well as Michael Smith, Rob Cross, Nathan Aspinall and Peter Wright.

How does it work?

Each night, the eight-players will have been drawn into quarter-final ties, before a stage semi-finals and final decides a night-winner, with each match being a best of 11 legs.

Each quarter-final winner receives two points, each semi-final winner receives three points and the winner of the night takes home five points and £10,000.

The first seven nights’ fixtures are all pre-scheduled, with night eight’s fixtures set depending on league position at that stage, before weeks nine to 15 unfold in a pre-scheduled fashion again before players fight it out in position-dependent fixtures to decide who makes the top four.

Those in the top four will make the play-offs at London’s O2 Arena on May 15th, where slightly longer format semi-final matches take place before a final to crown the tournament’s winner.

With qualification for the event as purely invite-only from the PDC, the Premier League can only be described as Darts’ most exclusive and prestigious event in consideration of the players’ long-term participation from February to May.

This year’s participants:

“Cool Hand” Luke Humphries – After winning the World Grand Prix, the Grand Slam, the Players’ Championship finals and now the World Championship, Humphries’ meteoric rise makes him an automatic favourite this year.

From being snubbed in last year’s players announcement, his fire and desire to play in this event is stronger than ever and in context of his relentless power on the board the world number one will pose a real threat in this year’s league phase.

Luke “The Nuke” Littler – Fresh from his World Championship final appearance on debut, 17-year old Littler won on his World Series debut in Bahrain and Michael van Gerwen defied his near-107 average in an 8-6 loss in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, just his second defeat in 15 matches since December 20th.

Now constantly in the headlines and invited to nearly every event this year on his debut year with a PDC tour card, the Warrington teenager will be qualifying for European Tour events and competing in Players Championship events in-and-around the Premier League nights.

As such, the threat of burnout in huge in what will be the most extraordinarily busy year for the talent and his capabilities in the tournament are very much unknown as the darting world continues to uncover the expanse of his talents.

But in producing 100+ averages that elite players struggle to produce, and having just recently become the youngest player to hit a PDC nine darter on tour, fans have every right to be excited and the world really is at his feet.

Michael van Gerwen (“Mighty Mike”) – Every single year, despite doubts about his form and bold predictions to write him off, Van Gerwen always seems to have the last laugh. The man is a machine and will always deliver when it matters.

After defeat against Littler in the Bahrain final, he vowed to ‘get’ him in their next meeting. The following week in Den Bosch, despite not playing his best, Van Gerwen defied an eight point gap in the averages to win in front of his home crowd.

The seven-time winner has now won two Premier League titles on the bounce, qualifying for finals night in 10 of his 11 appearances in the event.

“The Iceman” Gerwyn Price – Despite crowd trouble at almost every night of the Premier League outside of Cardiff last year, Price looked back to his best for most of the tournament, topping the group phase with 24 matches won and 4 nights won.

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And although he lost to Van Gerwen in the final of the play-offs, Price proved he’s got what it takes to go all the way, notching a whopping 115.97 average against Chris Dobey on Week 11 – the ninth highest Premier League average in its 19-year history.

His 2023 had mixed returns, making the World Grand Prix final and winning the World Cup with fellow Welsh countryman Jonny Clayton. But with consistency and a clinical edge, Price is more than likely to rise to the challenge again this year.

Michael Smith “Bully Boy” – After winning the 2023 World Championship, ‘Bully Boy’ had a pretty poor year by his own standards, winning the Bahrain Darts Masters on the World Series but failing to seriously challenge in any other tournament.

However, now a year-on since his change of darts manufacturer, it seems Smith is finally becoming more comfortable with his darts on the TV stage again. Given the ease of his throwing action and his extraordinary scoring power, Smith will be a challenging opponent for anyone.

Rob Cross (“Voltage”) – Following a two-year absence from the Premier League, ‘Voltage’ will make his fifth career appearance in the eight years he’s held a PDC tour card.

Playing some of the best darts of his career since winning the 2018 World Championship on debut, Cross made it to the final of last year’s Masters and Grand Slam before making the semi-final of the World Championship in January.

Nathan Aspinall (“The Asp”) – Stockport’s own the Asp doubled his major count last year, securing the prestigious Phil Taylor trophy at the Matchplay, breaking his drought following his maiden major title at the 2019 UK Open.

After making it to the final on his Premier League debut in 2020, Aspinall has played in two further editions of the tournament, just missing out on the play-offs coming fifth, a misfortune he’ll be desperate to avoid this time around.

Peter “Snakebite” Wright – In what was a noticeably poor year for ‘Snakebite’ where he fell from second in the world rankings to eighth, he still managed to snatch a major, winning the European Championship in October last year.

As part of that year of particularly poor form, Wright finished bottom of the Premier League table, with just five match wins across the 16 weeks.

The PDC have placed a significant amount of faith in Wright to perform, and although the possibility of a better year seems unlikely, darts fans would love nothing more than for darts’ biggest persona to be back to his best.

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Regardless of how the following 16 weeks unfold, the Premier League always delivers moments of brilliance and high-quality contests and with three participants from the North-West this year, it will be captivating viewing.

Featured Image: Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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