Monday, November 30

Premier League Darts: The story of the Challengers so far | Darts News



Luke Humphries shocked Gary Anderson to make Premier League history in March

The Premier League is darts’ biggest roadshow and it is a tournament that continues to innovate, evidenced by the ‘Contenders’ and ‘Challengers’ concept introduced last year.

Gary Anderson’s withdrawal from the 2019 event forced the PDC’s hand and its creative solution of introducing nine ‘Contenders’ proved popular, which saw the concept remodelled into the ‘Challengers’ format in 2020.

The tournament will resume behind closed doors at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena on August 25, and Chris Dobey, Jeffrey de Zwaan and Jermaine Wattimena will be the final three from this year’s crop hoping to make their mark, albeit in unique circumstances.

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Take a look at how this year’s Premier League Challengers have got on so far this season

Take a look at how this year’s Premier League Challengers have got on so far this season

Dobey and De Zwaan received rapturous receptions when they featured in Newcastle and Rotterdam respectively last year, while Wattimena’s hopes of a dream debut at the Ahoy Arena have been curtailed.

There was conjecture surrounding the merits of persisting with the concept after none of last year’s representatives registered a victory, but Luke Humphries rectified that statistic just prior to lockdown.

The nine ‘Challengers’ selected for both campaigns were comprised of stars of the future and local favourites and it has provided no shortage of memorable moments.

Premier League Contenders – 2019 results

Chris Dobey Drew 6-6 vs Mensur Suljovic
Glen Durrant Lost 7-3 vs Daryl Gurney
Steve Lennon Lost 7-5 vs Peter Wright
Luke Humphries Drew 6-6 vs Gerwyn Price
John Henderson Drew 6-6 vs Michael van Gerwen
Nathan Aspinall Lost 7-2 vs Michael Smith
Max Hopp Lost 7-3 vs Raymond van Barneveld
Dimitri Van den Bergh Drew 6-6 vs James Wade
Jeffrey de Zwaan Lost 7-4 vs Rob Cross

Premier League Challengers – 2020 results

John Henderson Lost 7-3 vs Nathan Aspinall
Fallon Sherrock Drew 6-6 vs Glen Durrant
Jonny Clayton Lost 7-1 vs Michael Smith
William O’Connor Lost 7-4 vs Michael van Gerwen
Luke Humphries Won 7-5 vs Gary Anderson
Stephen Bunting Drew 6-6 vs Rob Cross

Heroic homecomings

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John Henderson’s walk-on accompanied by bagpipes in front of his home crowd will be an abiding Premier League memory

John Henderson’s walk-on accompanied by bagpipes in front of his home crowd will be an abiding Premier League memory

John Henderson and William O’Connor’s incredible entrances in Aberdeen and Dublin respectively will live long in the memory, as they revelled in the adulation they received from partisan home crowds.

“I’m delighted with how it went. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything like that in my career, it was tremendous,” Henderson reflected after his 6-6 draw with Michael van Gerwen in last year’s edition.

O’Connor also faced Van Gerwen in this year’s showpiece and he echoed Henderson’s sentiments, despite succumbing 7-4 to the world No 1.

“Regardless of the result, this is the best night of my life. It was everything that I could have wished for and more,” admitted the Irishman.

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William O’Connor received a true Dublin welcome as the Irish challenger faced Michael van Gerwen on Night Four.

William O’Connor received a true Dublin welcome as the Irish challenger faced Michael van Gerwen on Night Four.

Providing a platform

Critics have pointed towards the concept’s novelty factor that devalues the competition, although for many of those who have played starring roles, it has provided a platform for great success over the last 12 months.

Nathan Aspinall and Glen Durrant – two of last year’s nine ‘Contenders’ – are now permanent fixtures in the 2020 competition.

Aspinall was beaten 7-2 by Michael Smith in Nottingham last year, but since then, he has added the US Masters title to his UK Open crown, before reaching his second straight World Championship semi-final to climb up to sixth in the world.

Durrant was bitterly disappointed to lose 7-3 to Daryl Gurney on his debut back in February 2019, but he currently tops this year’s table after six fixtures and boasts four major televised semi-finals on his growing resume.

Dimitri Van den Bergh performed magnificently to lift last month's World Matchplay title

Dimitri Van den Bergh performed magnificently to lift last month’s World Matchplay title

Dimitri Van den Bergh made his Premier League bow in Rotterdam last year and played out a thrilling draw with James Wade, although the Belgian was not included as one of this year’s ‘Challengers’.

Nevertheless, ‘The Dream Maker’ lived up to his nickname at last month’s World Matchplay, storming to the title on debut to become the first Belgian to lift a major televised PDC title.

Van den Bergh had frequently been touted as a future major champion due to his fearless big-stage persona and, despite this year’s omission, the 26-year-old is now a virtual certainty to appear in the 2021 roadshow as a full-time fixture.

Making history

Humphries etched his name into Premier League history in March, defeating two-time winner Anderson to become the first ‘Challenger’ to triumph in the competition.

There was a certain irony that Anderson was the first to be beaten by a Challenger, considering the format was only introduced as a result of his withdrawal with a back problem in 2019.

Luke Humphries defeated two-time Premier League champion Anderson at the Westpoint Arena

Luke Humphries defeated two-time Premier League champion Anderson at the Westpoint Arena

‘Cool Hand’ had claimed a point against Gerwyn Price 12 months earlier and, prior to his latest appearance, he had lifted the World Youth Championship title and featured in a second successive Alexandra Palace quarter-final.

Humphries appears to be cast in a similar mould to Aspinall and Van den Bergh – emerging stars who thrive in a big-stage environment, but now it is about taking that next step by landing a senior title.

“I live and breathe darts, it runs through my blood, I absolutely love the game and there’s nothing more in this world I’d want more than to be successful in this game,” Humphries said after toppling ‘The Flying Scotsman’.

The World Youth champion remains the only Challenger to taste victory, although former BDO world champion Stephen Bunting almost repeated the feat just seven days later, holding Rob Cross to a draw in Liverpool.

Fallon Sherrock starred on her Premier League bow in Nottingham

Fallon Sherrock starred on her Premier League bow in Nottingham

However, Humphries was not the only player to make history in this year’s Premier League. On Night Two of the 2020 roadshow in Nottingham, Fallon Sherrock certainly made her mark.

Following her ground-breaking exploits at the World Championship, Sherrock was rewarded with an appearance at the Motorpoint Arena, where she became the first female to compete in the event since its 2005 inception.

‘The Queen of the Palace’ almost capped off her debut with a landmark win, only for Durrant to salvage a point from 6-4 adrift, but it proved to be another milestone moment for the women’s game, and further affirmation that Sherrock could compete at the highest level.

Stagnation and frustration

Steve Lennon relished his Dublin homecoming, but he's struggled since

Steve Lennon relished his Dublin homecoming, but he’s struggled since

The Premier League has provided a platform for several stars to elevate their game to the next level, but for the likes of Steve Lennon and Max Hopp, that has not yet materialised.

Lennon narrowly lost out to Peter Wright on Night Two in 2019 and produced an inspired display to lead Ireland to the World Cup of Darts final just months later, but since then his form has plummeted.

The 26-year-old has only once progressed beyond the last 16 of a ranking event since last June and having been on the verge of breaking into the world’s top 32, he now finds himself languishing in 44th position.

Hopp’s much-anticipated homecoming in Berlin did not come to fruition in 2019 when he succumbed to a struggling Raymond van Barneveld.

Max Hopp has been the poster-boy for German darts for the best part of a decade

Max Hopp has been the poster-boy for German darts for the best part of a decade

‘The Maximiser’ remains Germany’s No 1 in terms of ranking position, although in the eyes of many – Gabriel Clemens is now the nation’s leading light.

Despite the wealth of experience he has under his belt, Hopp only turns 24 next week and certainly has time on his side, but he will be eager to start making the strides he knows he is capable of, or risk being usurped by the likes of Clemens and the emerging Nico Kurz.

Points to prove

Wattimena will make his Premier League bow in Milton Keynes over the coming days, while Dobey and De Zwaan return after featuring as Contenders in 2019.

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Chris Dobey received a rapturous reception on the opening night of the 2019 Premier League

Chris Dobey received a rapturous reception on the opening night of the 2019 Premier League

The latter pair both produced impressive displays on their debuts and although there will not be the incentive of performing for a partisan home crowd, both will feel they have a point to prove.

Dobey enjoyed a breakthrough 2019, reaching two major semi-finals at the World Grand Prix and the Players Championship Finals, and he credits his Premier League cameo for giving him the hunger to kick on.

“I felt I handled it quite well last year. Playing in those circumstances with all the crowd for me – it’s a nice feeling and I think that gave me the kick-start I needed to go a little further and get into more TV majors,” he told Sky Sports earlier this year.

He is up to a career high of 19th in the world but remains the highest-ranked player in world darts without a senior title to his name, while De Zwaan will also be keen to silence some critics.

Jeffrey de Zwaan has not reached a televised semi-final since his 2018 breakthrough at the World Matchplay

Jeffrey de Zwaan has not reached a televised semi-final since his 2018 breakthrough at the World Matchplay

Since reaching the World Matchplay semi-finals in 2018, the Dutchman is yet to consistently deliver on the big stage, though he has demonstrated glimpses of his quality – posting the highest average of the 2020 World Championship in his third-round victory over Dave Chisnall.

‘The Black Cobra’ has claimed several big scalps in the televised arena but consistency has been an issue and it is one he openly admits he will have to rectify if he is to shift the ‘Challenger’ tag and become a regular contender for major honours.

Darts returns to Sky Sports, with coverage of the Premier League from August 25. Check out daily Darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts.





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