Premier League 2016 - Preview

GARY ANDERSON will kick off his defence of the Betway Premier League title by locking horns with Adrian Lewis as the season begins at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Thursday. Anderson claimed the Premier League title for a second time last May when he overcame Michael van Gerwen in the final at The O2 in London. The Scot has since retained his World Championship crown by defeating Adrian Lewis in January's Alexandra Palace final, with the pair set for a rematch in Leeds as the new, 16-week Premier League season opens in style.

"It should be another great match," said Anderson, who also overcame Lewis in the 2011 Premier League final. "I think we'll get fireworks because the World Championship final was a good game and this should be too. You want to pick up two or three wins from your first four games just to take the pressure off, so I want to start well."

World number one Michael van Gerwen takes on James Wade, with the Dutchman's bid to claim a second Premier League title - and to top the league table for a fourth successive season - boosted by his triumph in last weekend's Masters event.

"I'm feeling really confident and I hope I can start well because it's a big year," said van Gerwen, the 5/4 pre-tournament favourite with title sponsors Betway. "It will be a great game against James because he played well last weekend to make the semi-finals in Milton Keynes and I won the tournament. The crowd in Leeds are always fantastic so I hope we can give them an exciting match. I'm playing consistent darts and things are going well, but it's a long season and you have to make sure you prepare for each week and for every game. I know what it's like to win this tournament but I also know what it's like to lose in the final so I need to make sure I'm sharp from the beginning to the end of the season."

The season's opening game sees flamboyant Peter Wright up against debutant Michael Smith, and the world number five is aiming to welcome the youngster to the Premier League stage in his own inimitable style.

"I've been very, very impressed by Michael Smith," said Wright. "He's done immensely well to get into the top ten and he's a fantastic darts player - he will be a future World Champion, easily. But it's my job to welcome him nicely to the Premier League with a whitewash! In my first year I was top of the league for six weeks or so, and Michael's got to go out and enjoy it. It's totally different to any other TV tournament and it's a privilege to play in the Premier League. I'm looking forward to this year. This year, I'll win TV tournaments and the aim is to go and win the Premier League now. I'm experienced enough now to go and win it, and I'm afraid of nobody."

Former World Youth Champion Smith has moved up to eighth in the world rankings over the past year, and is aiming to upset the odds by challenging for glory in his debut season.

"This is my first year and I'm going to be a bit like Leicester City in the football Premier League - I'm trying to avoid relegation and be top by Christmas!" he joked. "It was nice to be told I was in because it shows that the hard work has kindof paid off - but I'm not quite there yet; I want to be the number one in the world so there's still a lot of hard work ahead of me. With the Premier League I'll be on the TV every week and I think I need that because my TV form isn't as good as my floor form, so it's going to make me better on TV."

2015 World Grand Prix champion Robert Thornton - who played in the 2013 and 2014 Premier Leagues - makes his return to the competition against Dave Chisnall, who reached last year's semi-finals.

"I'm glad to be back in it and it should be fun," said Thornton. "Darts is so big now and being in the Premier League has made it a little bit sweeter for me. I'd only be practising at home anyway - and the crowds at the Premier League will make about as much noise as my grandkids do! I love getting up there and playing and entertaining people, and hopefully I'll play my best this season. In the first year I was in it I finished fifth and the following year I just avoided the cut - and nobody wants to go out after nine weeks. You've got to be at your best all the time, and if you don't perform you'll be out."

The night also sees the clash between great rivals Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld as the tournaments two longest-serving players kick off their bid to recapture the title in Leeds.

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