HUMPHRIES & LITTLER SET TO RENEW RIVALRY IN CARDIFF
World Champion Luke Humphries will take on teenage sensation Luke Littler on the opening night of the 2024 BetMGM Premier League on Thursday, as Michael van Gerwen begins his bid for a record-extending eighth title at Cardiff's Utilita Arena.
World number one Humphries will make his fully-fledged Premier League debut against World Youth Champion Littler in a repeat of last month's epic World Championship final at Alexandra Palace.
Humphries ran out a 7-4 winner in a contest which generated record-breaking viewing figures, and the pair will renew their rivalry in front of a sell-out crowd in the Welsh capital on Thursday.
This year's tournament will again see eight of the sport's top stars contesting 16 mini-events during the season, with each league night comprising quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final over the best of 11 legs.
Humphries and Littler faced off at the Principality Stadium during their pre-event media commitments on Wednesday, and 28-year-old Humphries is relishing his long-awaited Premier League debut.
"It's been a long time coming, but I'm really pleased that my time is now," said Humphries, who twice featured as a challenger in the Premier League in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
"I was slightly disappointed about missing out on last year's Premier League, but it was the right decision and it turned me into a winner.
"I think I'm more well-equipped than ever to be involved in the Premier League after what I achieved in 2023, so I'm really looking forward to the year ahead.
"All eight players are capable of lifting this trophy, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. The only goal for me is to get into that top four, because then all you need is a really good Finals Night to win it."
Littler, meanwhile, will become the youngest player to compete in the sport's showpiece event on Thursday, having taken the darting world by storm over the last two months.
The 17-year-old followed up his Alexandra Palace exploits by winning the Bahrain Darts Masters on his World Series debut, and he also progressed to last weekend's Dutch Darts Masters decider in Den Bosch.
"It's been crazy," admitted Littler, who has beaten five of his fellow Premier League players during the last month.
"The World Championship has changed my life, and now I'm getting opportunities to play in Bahrain, Den Bosch and of course the Premier League.
"I'm really looking forward to it. I cannot wait for the next 16 weeks, and I think this experience will certainly help my game."
The opening night of the 1m pound tournament will also see reigning champion Van Gerwen open his challenge against 2023 World Champion Michael Smith, with Humphries or Littler awaiting the winner in the semi-finals.
The Dutch superstar overhauled Phil Taylor's haul of six Premier League titles with victory in last year's event, and he's determined to create further history in 2024.
"I'm ready for it, no problem," insisted Van Gerwen, the solitary Premier League champion in the eight-player field.
"There are many players stepping up, and I think it's going to be a really exciting Premier League. There are a lot of quick, entertaining players which is what you want!
"You have to play on the highest level possible against the best of the best, week in week out, which makes you a better player.
"I'm feeling positive. I've got a tough opening game against Michael Smith, but I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully I can make a perfect start."
Elsewhere, home hero Gerwyn Price will also take centre stage in Cardiff, as the 2023 Premier League runner-up takes on World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall in his quarter-final tie.
Two-time World Cup winner Price defeated Aspinall in last year's Cardiff decider, and the Welsh number one is hoping for a repeat performance on home soil.
"I'm relishing being back here in Cardiff, and hopefully I can get some points on the board early," said the 2021 World Champion, who topped last year's league phase.
"I know I'm going to get fantastic support, so I want to give a little bit back to the fans and hopefully go all the way on the night.
"It was great to make the Play-Offs last year, but I fell short against Michael [van Gerwen] in the final, so hopefully I can turn the tables and pick up that trophy this year."
Elsewhere, former World Champions Peter Wright and Rob Cross collide in the evening's opener, as Cross returns to the Premier League fold following a two-year absence.
Wright, meanwhile, is embarking on an 11th consecutive Premier League campaign, and the Scottish veteran insists he has his hunger back following a challenging 2023 season.
"The way I'm approaching it this year is like it's my first year in the Premier League, so I'm excited," insisted the 2017 runner-up.
"I've changed a lot of things mentally which hopefully will pay off, and sticking with one set of darts would be good as well!
"I think it's one of the strongest Premier League line-ups I've been involved in, but I think it's going to go well and I'm confident I can make the Play-Offs."
The BetMGM Premier League's opening night in Cardiff will be followed next Thursday by the visit to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, and travels across the UK as well as to Dublin and Rotterdam across the 17-night season, which culminates in May's Play-Offs at The O2 in London.
The 2024 BetMGM Premier League will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland, through the PDC's worldwide broadcast partners including DAZN and Viaplay, and on PDCTV for Rest of the World Subscribers.
First Night's Quarterfinals:
Peter Wright v Rob Cross
Gerwyn Price v Nathan Aspinall
Michael van Gerwen v Michael Smith
Luke Littler v Luke Humphries