Darts: Phil Taylor faces Sheffield Arena challenge

Dennis Priestley in action during the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship back in, 2012.
Dennis Priestley in action during the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship back in, 2012.
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Dennis Priestley believes the Premier League will be won by either Michael Van Gerwen or Gary Anderson, as the weekly darts’ road show rolls into Sheffield today.

The PDC’s showpiece tournament heads for the Arena, with 16-time World Champion Phil Taylor leading the way, a point clear of world number one and hot-favourite Van Gerwen. Taylor takes on Anderson looking to maintain his position at the summit, but two-time World Champion Priestley explains that despite Taylor’s lofty position he expects the overall winner to come from the chasing pack.

“Phil, like me, has had his best days, but there is no doubt he is still playing great darts,” the Mexborough ace said.

“There are a number of players out there now who are finding ways to be beat him, and I think in the end it will be between Gary Anderson and Michael Van Gerwen. The reason why we have a lot of top players who are capable of challenging Phil is because there is virtually a tournament every week. That keeps the averages so high, which is great.”

The night kicks off with James Wade against Raymond Van Barneveld, whilst Van Gerwen takes on Robert Thornton and Adrian Lewis faces off with Peter Wright.

After Taylor’s clash second up with current World Champion Anderson, he is back on stage to round the night off against Wade.

The Premier League has grown since its induction in 2005, filling arenas across the UK. After missing out on the first two years, Priestley qualified for the event in 2007, following a resurgence in his career. When the tournament rolled into Sheffield for the first time, it allowed ‘The Menace’ to walk out in front of a then record crowd of around 6,000.

“When the Premier League was created I wasn’t selected, but I was determined to get back up the rankings to qualify and that’s what I did,” Priestley recalls. “I remember it well at Sheffield because I was playing a good friend of mine, Colin Lloyd. I ended up winning 8-5, and I think the occasion got to Colin a little because I don’t think he could handle all the noise, and the chanting of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire!’”.

Priestley went on to qualify for the semi-finals in 2007 before losing to old foe Taylor. Almost a decade on, the Premier League is still packing out venues with no sign of its popularity slowing down.

“Crowds have been tremendous,” the Mexborough man confirmed. “The Premier League virtually pays for everything we do tournament-wise. We are taking it to Holland this year; it sold out within 24 hours.”

Now retired from the professional ranks, the 65-year-old admits he still keeps in touch with the sport, which he dominated along with Taylor throughout the 1990s.

“I’ve retired competitively; it has been two years now. I still play in exhibitions so I will practice once a week for a couple of hours and I still love it.”