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PDC: Cullen's case for dream debut grows

The 18th edition of Premier League Darts is up and running with eight of the finest players in the world eyeing up the trophy and £275,000 winner's cheque.

Only one man, Joe Cullen, is toeing the oche in this tournament for the first time.

While world No.1 Gerwyn Price, world champ Peter Wright and five-time Premier League winner Michael van Gerwen have become mainstays of the PDC's flagship invitational tournament, a 16-week slog which will culminate in finals night in Berlin on 13th June, Cullen is very much the newcomer.

And it's so far, so good for the likeable Yorkshireman with three points on the board in the new format heading into Night Three at the SSE Arena in Belfast and an outright quote of 9/1.

In Belfast he takes on Van Gerwen in his quarter-final and is 6/5 to prevail.

Debutants have enjoyed and endured in equal measure in this competition and the jury is still out on whether or not Cullen will be the next MvG and win – or the next Kim Huybrechts and blow out! 

Taylor heads list of fabulous first-timers

Five debutants have successfully done what Cullen is aspiring to do and win the title in their first year.

Phil Taylor was the first, inevitably, given it was the first running of the tournament back in 2005.

Since then, Gary Anderson in 2011, Van Gerwen two years later, Glen Durrant in 2020 and Jonny Clayton last year have also taken the spoils in their rookie campaign.

But for every glorious arrival there has been the same number of debut disasters.

Notable flops include Jelle Klaasen – last of seven in 2009 – and Mark Webster, who was last of eight in 2011. Neither man was offered a second chance.

Poor Wes Newton had a couple of tilts at it but was eliminated early both times, a fate which also befell Huybrechts. The Belgian, however, trumped Newton by finishing rock bottom on both of his attempts.

Rockstar making a big noise so far

Cullen is of course guaranteed to avoid the ignominy of finishing either ninth or tenth, if for no other reason than this year's revamped contest features only eight players.

And anyway, the Bradford ex-postie, as suggested earlier, will be looking up at the playoffs rather than scrabbling around at the bottom given the form he is in.

Hugely impressive winning the Masters at the end of January to seal his spot in Premier League Darts 2022, he started off with a nervy 6-2 defeat at Clayton's hands in Cardiff on the opening night.

He missed a stack of doubles, an array of warning lights started flashing and he was swiftly on the drift in outright betting.

Come week two in Liverpool and it clicked. He beat James Wade 6-3 tidily enough for a first win and then stunned Gerwyn Price 6-5 in the semis before succumbing to Clayton in the final.

In the new format – two points awarded for each week's losing semi-finalists, three for the runner-up and five the winner – that put him on three points and third in the fledgling table.

Confidence soaring he trotted off down the M62 to Wigan and won both Pro Tour events, clinching the title on Sunday in style by signing off with wins over Rob Cross, Price and Dimitri van den Bergh.

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Suffering Smith needs to get on the board

While Cullen has to be happy with his work thus far, Michael Smith won't be.

Bully Boy came into the competition in great form – he reached the World Championship final just a month before – and determined to prove the organisers wrong after being overlooked an invite last year.

Instead, it's played two, lost two so far, no points on the board – the only player in that position – and he needs to get going.

He's up against another underachiever, Gerwyn Price, in Belfast and for the first time in three weeks, Smith has the throw. He needs to make it count. Smith is 13/10, with Price 8/13 to oblige.

All-Scottish duel a Belfast treat

The bottom half of the draw features Wade against Clayton and Wright against Anderson.

Clayton, the defending champion, beat Wade en route to the final in Cardiff two weeks ago and went one better last week in Liverpool, winning the competition.

He's top of the table on eight points and 11/4 to go on and successfully defend his title.

He would certainly expect to have far too much scoring power for Wade and is 8/13 to hit more 180s than the left-hander; so far he tops the maximums chart with 16 over the first two weeks, which is 12 more than Wade admittedly in more games.

Wright and Anderson go back years and know each other's games inside out. Snakebite is 4/9 and on the form of the last few months hard to oppose – until last week that is.

Out of the blue Wright had an absolute nightmare against Van Gerwen in Liverpool, averaging a woeful 84.71 in a crushing 6-1 loss, almost frozen in the headlights against his great rival.

Anderson, of course, would dearly love to see his former World Cup partner throw in a second successive stinker – but that might be expecting a bit too much.

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