Five-Time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld and eight-time major winner James Wade are among the wildcard selections for the 2016 Premier League, as World Number 8 Michael Smith prepares to make his debut in the competition, when the action gets underway in Leeds on February 4th.
The line-up for the 2016 Premier League was announced by PDC Chairman Barry Hearn, in the immediate aftermath of Gary Anderson’s World Championship triumph. This will be the biggest season in the competition’s history, with the overall prize money totalling £700,00.
The top four players on the PDC Order of Merit are automatic entries, therefore Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Adrian Lewis and Phil Taylor did not have to rely on a wildcard selection.
The PDC committee then had the opportunity to choose four wildcards. They chose World Number 5 Peter Wright, who has reached two major TV finals this year, as well as James Wade, who reached the World Matchplay final in July.
Robert Thornton, who beat Michael van Gerwen to win the World Grand Prix title in October, is another of the PDC’s wildcard selections.
Thornton has endured a mixed year, having suffered five first-round major defeats. However he has been rewarded for his remarkable performance in Dublin, in the wake of his controversial omission from last year’s competition.
The solitary debutant in this year’s competition is former World-Youth Champion Michael Smith. The 25-year-old has enjoyed the best year of his career in 2015, winning two European Tour events, as well as reaching his first TV major semi-final, in November’s Grand Slam of Darts.
Smith ended the year second on the Pro Tour Order of Merit, and also performed superbly at this year’s World Championships, where he was beaten 5-4 in an epic quarter-final against Raymond van Barneveld.
Elsewhere, van Barneveld and World Number 10 Dave Chisnall, were Sky’s two wildcard selections. The 48-year-old Dutchman, who won the 2014 Premier League, has reached the play-offs on a remarkable eight occasions, and enjoyed a fantastic end to the year, reaching the semi-finals in both the Grand Slam and the World Championship.
Van Barneveld and Chisnall also reached the semi-finals of last year’s Premier League, where they were beaten by Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson respectively.
Barney launched a remarkable recovery after staring down the barrel of relegation, winning six of his remaining seven group matches. Chisnall finished in second place in the group phase, and missed three darts to beat eventual winner Gary Anderson 10-9 in the semi-finals.
Chizzy has performed consistently throughout the year, reaching the quarter-final stages of the World Matchplay, the European Championships and the Players Championship Finals.
The St Helen’s star also contested a classic last-16 tie against Peter Wright at this year’s World Championships, with Snakebite edging through an enthralling deciding set to prevail 4-3.
However, Stephen Bunting and Kim Huybrechts, who were handed their Premier League debuts last year, have not been selected. Huybrechts was relegated alongside Peter Wright last year, whilst Bunting has struggled to replicate the form he displayed in his PDC debut year in 2014.
Jelle Klaasen, who received an invitation to the 2009 Premier League, was touted as a potential candidate for a wildcard, following his run to the World Championship semi-finals, however ‘The Cobra’ narrowly missed the cut this year, despite knocking out Phil Taylor in the last 16.
For the first time in the competition’s history, the Premier League will be visiting the Netherlands, to Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena.
The 8,000 capacity venue will play host to the final night of the group phase on May 12th, and the Dutch crowd will get the opportunity to see their darting heroes, Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld, presuming both avoid relegation.
The semi-finals and final will once again take place at London’s O2 Arena on Thursday 19th May, and the fixtures for the opening nine weeks of Premier League action will be released in due course.
2016 Betway Premier League
PDC Order of Merit Top Four
Michael van Gerwen – 2013 Premier League champion
Gary Anderson – 2011 & 2015 Premier League champion
Adrian Lewis – 2011 Premier League finalist
Phil Taylor – Six-time Premier League champion
Peter Wright – 2015 UK Open finalist
James Wade – 2009 Premier League champion
Robert Thornton – 2015 World Grand Prix champion
Michael Smith – Premier League debutant, former World Youth Champion
Raymond van Barneveld – 2014 Premier League champion
Dave Chisnall – 2015 Premier League semi-finalist