PDC star Stephen Bunting kicks off his Premier League column with Thursday's best bets.
Peter Wright v Michael Smith
The first direct arena in Leeds is an amazing place to play darts, it’s definitely one of the biggest venues on the circuit and the atmosphere last year was immense, so expect the 2016 Premier League to kick off with a bang on Thursday night.
That could be an issue for Premier League debutant Michael Smith who will never have played in front of a crowd as big or hostile as this. Michael took a battering from MVG in Milton Keynes and he needs to make sure that is completely out of his mind going into this. The Premier League is the biggest competition in darts, it’s all encompassing and, as I found out last season, it can literally take over your season, which is something Michael needs to get used to.
No doubt his mentor, Gary Anderson, will be giving him plenty of advice but this is a tough opening match for Michael because Peter is playing well and has valuable PL experience on his side. For those reasons, I think Peter will be too strong for Michael on the night.
Michael van Gerwen v James Wade
This looks fairly straightforward – if Michael plays like he has been doing then he’ll beat James with something to spare. James is still a fantastic player but he is averaging just under par at the moment and MVG’s heavy scoring will have him under pressure from the start.
Phil Taylor v Raymond van Barneveld
Barney has been in relaxed mood this week and that’s probably a good thing as he seems to play his best darts when he goes into a tournament fresh. I’m expecting Barney to play well but Phil looks so comfortable with these new darts that I think he’s going to be a major threat to MVG in this tournament. Don’t get me wrong, Phil will be gutted about blowing a winning chance against MVG in the Masters on Sunday, but he’s the best in the business and bouncing back from a defeat and although this could be close, I think Phil should have too much for Barney on the night.
Gary Anderson v Adrian Lewis
This will be a good game. Adrian will be gutted about losing to Kim Huybrechts on Saturday night but he switched darts for that game having hit a couple of nine-darters in practice. The new darts didn’t work for him on the night so I would think he’ll revert back to his original darts for this match. Gary also crashed out of the Masters unexpectedly and he was complaining of bad back pain after his defeat to Vincent van der Voort. Both players will be keen to bounce straight back from their Masters disappointments but I’m struggling to split them and this could end up a draw, which looks decent value at 4-1.
Robert Thornton v Dave Chisnall
Chizzy produced one of the greatest comebacks of all time against Robert Thornton at the weekend and that could still play heavy on Robert’s mind. Chizzy’s form has throughout the year has been brilliant and I think the Premier League format lends itself a bit to Dave because he hits so many 180s and can back it up with big finishes. Robert is back in the Premier League after missing out last year but this is a tough opening match as Chizzy, on the back of a great weekend in Milton Keynes, comes into this with a great deal of confidence. Dave should win this.