Belfast and furious
Rod Harrington tips Phil Taylor to edge Michael van Gerwen as the new-look Premier League begins.
Last Updated: 05/02/13 6:16pm
The PDC is always trying to improve the game year on year and so we've made some big changes to the Premier League this season.
With 10 players, a shorter format and relegation I think there are some real improvements - and if you're a paying customer you get more players and more matches for the same ticket price.
I especially like the idea of relegating two players after nine weeks because it should make the players fight a little bit harder; in some years we've seen some players get a bit miserable about having to play for 14 weeks - but this year we'll only see you for nine and then you're gone.
Sometimes I've heard players saying "I didn't want to play any more anyway" - but that's the worst statement any sportsman can make and it's also total rubbish. If you get relegated it's because you're not playing well enough.
By increasing the field to 10 players, more of the guys in the PDC will see a chance to get a Premier League place in future and with a shorter format there will be no breaks in the middle of matches this year; you'll get up to 12 straight legs of action and it'll be crash, bang wallop.
If you want a few tips before the season starts, I think we'll see a hat-trick of nine-darters during the tournament and I also think we'll see a lot of draws; it's worth doing trebles, four-folds and a five-fold on all the games being tied each week.
It's a silly bet, but it will come up at some point!
That's because this should turn out to be the closest Premier League season we've ever seen. Let's look at the matches for week one in Belfast...
Andy Hamilton v Robert Thornton
At last weekend's World Cup, Robert Thornton played the worst darts he's played in 14 months. For some reason he was getting frustrated with himself, but pairs is a different game so I won't take that into account too much. I'll focus on the form that he had in 2012, but he's up against one of my favourite players in Andy Hamilton. He wears his heart on his sleeve, gives 150 per cent every week and this is a match I can see being a draw. If one of them is going to nick it then it will only be 7-5 either way.
Rod's call: DRAW
James Wade v Wes Newton
James Wade's illness has been well documented, but he was getting better at the back end of last year. He wasn't brilliant at the World Championship, but was doing a good job at times and I've seen him play well in exhibitions. As for Wes Newton, this is his debut in the Premier League and he may get nervous in front of the massive Belfast crowd, but I think he will be up for it. He totally deserves his place and it's hard to pick a winner. Wade is the master of grinding games out, but if Newton gets in front he could put his first win on the board. It may sound like I'm sitting on the fence, but I honestly feel it will be a draw.
Rod's call: DRAW
Raymond van Barneveld v Gary Anderson
At the World Cup we didn't see many 140s from Gary Anderson, and even fewer 180s - and his strength has always been to give himself extra darts at a double with his scoring power. I spoke to him in Hamburg and he admitted he hadn't been practising enough, but he needs to get on and do it. I'm going for Raymond van Barneveld to win because he is playing some super darts. The Dutch went out of the World Cup early, but he played well there, he won the Grand Slam and he narrowly lost to Phil Taylor at the Worlds. I think he's in good shape and I'm backing the form horse.
Rod's call: VAN BARNEVELD WIN
Simon Whitlock v Adrian Lewis
I don't think I've seen Adrian Lewis play as badly as he did at the World Cup, apart from one brilliant game against Ronny Huybrechts in the final. The rest of his performances were poor and he needs to step it up against a very solid Simon Whitlock. Lewis can turn up and average 113 out of nowhere, but it all depends which Adrian turns up. I'm going to go for a narrow win for the Australian because I think his solid game will get him through - but some weeks Lewis will arrive and win easily. That's what makes his matches so hard to predict!
Rod's call: WHITLOCK WIN
Phil Taylor v Michael van Gerwen
What a great match to close the first night of the Premier League; the new fresh face of darts against the old master! People dig at me for praising Phil so much, but the way he won the World Championship was excellent. He ground the result out against Van Gerwen in the final and at the World Cup his stats were exceptional all the way through (in fact, his brilliance was overshadowed by how bad his partner, Lewis, was). The short format will suit Van Gerwen (back him to get the most 180s), but I can't see him winning it. I think it will be a close battle and could easily be a draw, but on form you can't back against a win for Taylor - but only a narrow win.
Rod's call: TAYLOR WIN