There's one more Premier League Darts spot up for grabs but which player will get it? Paul Nicholson assesses the chances of the five leading contenders in his first Sporting Life Darts column of 2021.
Nine of the 10 players who will compete in this year's Premier League Darts - which isn't expected to start until around Easter - were revealed straight after Gerwyn Price won the World Championship final against Gary Anderson, while the last selection will be decided after the season-opening Masters event at the end of January.
Aside from Price and Anderson, the field currently includes five-time winner Michael van Gerwen, reigning champion Glen Durrant, 2020 runner-up Nathan Aspinall, World Matchplay king Dimitri Van den Bergh, Grand Slam of Darts hero Jose De Sousa, Peter Wright and Rob Cross.
There are numerous candidates who will fancy their chances of earning selection if they have a good run at the Masters, but former major winner and leading pundit Paul Nicholson believes it'll be one of his list of five.
It’s not quite that simple, but the Masters is the last big event set to take place before the final selection is made so obviously if a player not already in the field can win it, their chances will be enhanced.
We’re not sure yet if there will be a UK Open between now and whenever the Premier League is able to begin around Easter time in front of fans, while we’re unlikely to see any European Tour action either.
Virtually every player who realistically has a claim for that last spot is in the Masters field – except for Dirk van Duijvenbode – so if any of them flop in the opening round, it could be curtains.
Historically the PDC do like to side with players who end the season well, such as when Daryl Gurney won the Players Championship Finals at the end of an otherwise indifferent year and when Andy Hamilton reached the World Championship final.
Therefore this is probably the most important Masters event ever. We’ve always wanted this non-ranked event to have more grandeur and right now, it has it.
Here are the five I think have the strongest claims for Premier League inclusion, in order of the most likely.
I think it’s only fair we start in ranking order, and for Dave Chisnall to get back up as high as number six in the world is a tremendous achievement. He is currently celebrating the biggest pay day of his career (£100,000) thanks to that incredible victory over Michael van Gerwen at the World Championship.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t match that display against Gary Anderson and missed out on his maiden Ally Pally final but it was definitely a step in the right direction in his quest to finally win one of the big majors.
The PDC would love to pick him because he’s very popular, adores playing darts, never moans or causes trouble and obviously hits a lot of 180s. He’s Premier League gold!
I think if Chizzy can make the final of the Masters then he’ll bank his place – it’s that simple. Other candidates vying for this spot have more to do than Dave and would ideally need him to go out early and then make an impression themselves.
If I was Dave’s manager I’d say “If you really want that Premier League spot, work your guts out over the next few weeks and stay as sharp for the Masters as you were at the worlds.”
Should he do that then he will go far and make it an almost impossible decision not to pick him.
Chizzy is at the front of the roller-coaster and while that puts him under the most pressure to stay there, everyone else would rather be where he is than in the chasing pack.
James Wade could have booked himself a return to the Premier League with a great World Championship run but yet again he disappointed at Ally Pally and finds himself out in the cold, for now.
When you think the player who beat him in the 2020 Grand Slam of Darts final – Jose De Sousa – who is now in the Premier League off the back of that then James must be thinking he was just one win away, while he also reached the European Championship final in a resurgent 2020.
Ultimately he’ll probably have to defeat Premier League newcomer and World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van den Bergh to enjoy a good run at the Masters and that won’t be easy.
We all know James has a love-hate relationship with the PDC right now; He has immense skill, experience and the CV but when you say to the press that you’re not keen on playing in the Premier League then it doesn’t help your chances!
This is probably one of the biggest reasons why he wasn’t included in the initial nine and he’ll not only need to do better than Dave Chisnall at the Masters, but will also have to do usome positive press to let everyone know he wants the 10th spot.
It’s about time that James stops being a darts mercenary and instead show a genuine love for the sport that has given him so much. If he can do that – as well as win - then he may just get the nod.
I think how the world rankings look and based on recent form, I think the remaining candidates will need to hope Dave Chisnall and James Wade slip up and not do something big, even Michael Smith.
He’s used to playing Premier League Darts over the past few seasons and did of course reach the final a couple of years ago, so he definitely has the right pedigree as well as the talent.
However, the PDC and Sky Sports will be looking at him to do what he did last year in reaching the Masters final, which he lost in agonising circumstances against Peter Wright. If he can match that run or even lift the trophy, then he’ll be back in the shop window after a very big rankings drop of £185,000 going down to number nine in the world.
This is a time where Michael can press the reset button and start putting things right when it comes to winning titles. I know he won two of them at the Winter Series but he really needs to do it on TV now.
He needs to stop the negativity he’s been showing when things aren’t going right on stage – like he did against Jason Lowe, who admitted he fed of it during his shock victory. If he does not address this, he’ll slip down the rankings even more.
Michael needs a big run at the Masters and should he break his big tv title duck, then it’ll do wonders for his career as well as his chances of Premier League selection.
Daryl Gurney had a very good World Championship to edge back up to 11 in the rankings but he has a very big mountain to climb if he wants to stay in the Premier League.
Having put himself in the previous fields on the back of winning the 2017 World Grand Prix and the 2018 Players Championship Finals, he now finds himself on the chopping block after one of his poorer seasons.
However, he typically showed his trademark grit to end the season with a very good run on the biggest stage of all when everyone had written him off, and you wouldn’t put it past him to land the latest of decisive blows by winning the Masters.
Realistically, that’s what he needs to do. If he makes the final, he’ll be considered but I don’t think that will put him above Dave Chisnall.
In 2020 there really was nothing to look at apart from a quarter-final run at the Ally Pally – is that on its own really good enough for a Premier League spot? No.
He didn’t have a stunning 2019 either – apart from his World Matchplay semi-final run - and earned his 2020 Premier League spot by virtue of the high ranking he was able to maintain from his previous major triumphs.
Now it’s time to do something special in last chance saloon.
Krzysztof has been touted as a future Premier League player and having performed very well en route to the World Championship quarter-finals, he finally showed what he’s capable of on the big TV stage.
I think he’s a good enough player at world number 14 to be put in a spot if the PDC feel they want to give someone else a shot outside of the usual suspects, who have had plenty of chances in the past.
If you look through the list of nine players already in the line-up, the one thing that stands out is fresh faces with Dimitri Van den Bergh and Jose de Sousa, while there are others in just their second ever season – Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall.
Therefore, why not mix it up even more with Ratajski? I personally feel he’d flourish and find another level of adrenaline against the biggest names week in, week out, while he’s also growing in popularity among darts fans.
However he’ll need to win this event to stand a chance. It won’t be easy because he starts off against Simon Whitlock, who will also feel he’s still in contention after his revival in 2020.
Ratajski is in the same boat as the other long shot contenders such as Whitlock, Joe Cullen, Ian White and Stephen Bunting but out of all of them, I think he has the best chance of doing it.
The Premier League is similar to pay-per-view boxing in terms of a needing marketable, popular stars who can sell tickets and that might be an area which works against Ratajski at this moment of time, especially with his lack of social media presence.
This is an event to sell darts to the world, so the PDC will certainly be baring that in mind when making their decision.