Much of the attention so far in this year’s Unibet Premier League has been on the ‘Contenders’, and rightly so.
In Gary Anderson’s absence, nine players were selected by the PDC to replace him on each of the opening nine nights of the tournament.
The ‘Contenders’ have provided us with a lot of entertainment and all have shown their worth. This past Thursday, in Aberdeen, John Henderson enjoyed a heroes welcome during his walk-on and drew 6-6 with the world number one Michael van Gerwen.
Rumbling under the surface of this year’s Premier League, though, are several contenders threatening to end van Gerwen’s long run finishing at the top of the table.
Now, the ‘Contenders’ may hog more of the limelight over the next three weeks. It might not be until after Judgement Night, in Rotterdam, on March 28, that the battle for top spot comes into view.
But right now, five weeks into the season, it appears that we have some genuine contenders to van Gerwen’s throne.
The top four, as it stands, are James Wade, Rob Cross, van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price. All four players are locked on seven points and separated by various measures.
Wade is top by legs difference, or goal differential, as my co-host on the Weekly Dartscast Burton DeWitt likes to call it. Cross is above van Gerwen and Price by virtue of his higher legs difference, while van Gerwen is in front of Price only by his superior tournament three-dart average.
Ever since making his Premier League debut, back in 2013, van Gerwen has finished the league phase of the tournament at the top of the pile.
His strike rate at The O2, in London, on finals night is not as high. But year after year the Dutchman’s relentless consistency has ensured he has gone to the capital at the summit.
Could 2019 be the year that van Gerwen does not finish top? We are only five weeks in to a league phase which does not culminate until May 16, but at this moment in time the table does make for fascinating reading.
Wade, the current incumbent of van Gerwen’s seat at the top, has performed exceptionally well so far. He has the highest tournament average out of anyone, with 101.84, and has the highest checkout percentage, with 51.67 per cent.
And, let us not forget, he has beaten van Gerwen already in the tournament. A 7-3 win in Exeter two weeks ago, which started a rare run of three consecutive games on television without a win for the world number one.
Cross did suffer that heavy defeat to van Gerwen on night three, in Dublin, but has responded instantly. Wins over Daryl Gurney (7-1, 102 average) and Michael Smith (7-3, 103 average) have seen him climb from sixth to second in the space of two weeks.
And then there is Price – the only unbeaten player left in the Premier League, aside from the ‘Contenders’ who have drawn their games.
While Price’s rolling tournament average, 97.71, is the sixth best out of the nine players, his timing has been nigh on perfect at times.
There is a strong case that the Grand Slam champion should be at the top. He dropped a point against Raymond van Barneveld on night two.
With his next two games against van Gerwen and Cross, it should give us more of an indication of Price’s chances of going the distance in this year’s Premier League.