Premier League Darts champions to clash in Belfast
The PDC's media officer, Dave Allen, previews week three of Premier League Darts. The image is courtesy of Lawrence Lustig/PDC.
The Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts visits Belfast's Odyssey Arena on Thursday night, with Phil Taylor looking to take first blood against James Wade in the battle to reclaim his title.
Left-hander Wade succeeded Taylor as Premier League Darts champion last May when the Stoke legend's bid for a fifth successive title was stopped at the semi-final stage by Mervyn King.
Wade, though, has lost both matches so far this season while Taylor has opened with a brace of victories despite being laid low with a virus ahead of the tournament.
Taylor came from 4-0 down to win 8-6 against Ronnie Baxter in Bournemouth last week, meaning he kept pace with Mervyn King as the two unbeaten players in the early stages.
"I'm really pleased to start with two wins because I've not been at my best, and my finishing has got me through," said Taylor.
"I've been able to practice more this week and I think my performances are going to improve from here, which they'll have to do. James is a lethal finisher and I can't afford to go behind like I did last week."
Taylor lost 8-4 to Wade in Belfast last year, one of three defeats he suffered during 2009 to the world number three.
He added: "James deserved to beat me last year and he did great to win the title, but this is a different game in a new season and last year's gone now."
Wade is hoping that the clash with Taylor - in front of over 7,000 fans in Belfast - will ignite his year, after losing to Raymond van Barneveld and Mervyn King on the opening two weeks of the tournament.
"I love playing against Phil and hopefully this will be the night I can kick start my season," said Wade. "I seem to have some of my best games against him, and last year was a memorable night.
"I missed too many doubles last week against Mervyn and I know I can't afford to do that again but I'm really looking forward to it because Belfast's a brilliant venue and the fans there are great."
King will open proceedings against Baxter in Belfast, with the Norfolk-based star having made an impressive start to the season as well as winning both PDC Pro Tour events held in Swindon last weekend.
"I like playing against Ronnie and it will be fast and furious," said King. "I've learned over the years to play against the slower players but I'd say Ronnie is probably 25 percent quicker than me - if he's hitting things then I might slow down a bit!"
Adrian Lewis is bidding to follow up his 8-3 demolition of Raymond van Barneveld with a victory against Terry Jenkins, who has opened the campaign with two draws.
"I know how good Adrian is and what I will have to do against him," said Jenkins. "In both weeks the start has cost me but I never give up and I'll always keep battling.
"It's my fourth year in the Premier League and it's not the same as my first year, where I was a little bit nervous.
"Sometimes you need a little bit of nerves and now I think I go up there too relaxed. I've got to get that fight in me from the start."
Diversely, Lewis raced into a 6-0 lead against van Barneveld in Bournemouth with some brilliant darts, and is hoping to reproduce that form in Belfast.
"For a few games before last Thursday I'd started and been brilliant for two or three legs and then my foot's come off the pedal, I'd lose a bit of interest and lose the game," he admitted.
"I'd practiced really hard before Bournemouth and I knew I was going to play well, but at the end of the day it's only one game, and the Premier League is a marathon and not a sprint."
The night's other match sees van Barneveld take on Australian star Simon Whitlock, who defeated the Dutchman in the World Championship semi-finals in the New Year.
Whitlock lost to Taylor on his Premier League Darts debut a fortnight ago but draw with Jenkins in Bournemouth last Thursday and showed some of his best form in a run to the final of a UK Open Qualifier on Sunday.
"The first week was a nightmare for me," said Whitlock. "I had jet-lag to start with and have had a problem with my heel for the past month which held me back.
"My heel is a lot better now I think I'll definitely get better now as the weeks go on."