PHIL TAYLOR will begin his challenge to regain darting supremacy from Raymond van Barneveld when the 2007 Holsten Premier League Darts kicks off on Thursday night. Taylor lost his Ladbrokes.com World Championship crown to the Dutchman a month ago, letting a 3-0 lead slip at the Circus Tavern before van Barneveld won 7-6 in a sudden death final leg.

The pair will meet twice in the next 14 weeks during the league phase of the £275,000 Holsten Premier League, with the first night taking place at the Plymouth Pavilions. Taylor has yet to be defeated in the two years of the Premier League, and meets Roland Scholten on Thursday in a repeat of the 2006 final.

“I can’t wait,” said Taylor, 46. “It has been a long month wanting to get back into action – you can practice all you like but there’s nothing like being on stage. “I love the Premier League, it has been great for the game and the fans are always amazing, wherever we go in the country. “Roland is in some good form and he showed his quality by reaching the final last year. “I have been practicing hard, though, and I will be ready for him. “I’m not taking anything for granted in the Premier League. There are eight quality players and it will be so hard over the next three months.”

Van Barneveld opens his challenge against Premier League debutant Adrian Lewis – and is looking to erase the painful memory of his shock 11-3 loss to Scholten in last year’s semi-final in Plymouth. “The venue does not have happy memories, but Thursday is a new day,” said the 39-year-old Dutchman. “I was very disappointed to lose to Roland last year but I’ve had many wins since then. “Adrian will be a big challenge, we played in the final of an event in Gibraltar recently and he is a quality player.”

Lewis is one of three debutants in the expanded 2007 Holsten Premier League, which has increased to eight players. The 22-year-old from Stoke hailed van Barneveld’s World Championship comeback as “amazing”, and added: “Ray is playing absolutely brilliantly. “I can’t fault him for what he’s done, winning three straight tournaments including the World Championship in the past month or so. “I’m really looking forward to it and think I can cause an upset there. It would be a bit of revenge for his win over me in Gibraltar!”

Double World Champion Dennis Priestley and World Grand Prix finalist Terry Jenkins will meet in their first appearances in the tournament. “I am excited,” said Priestley, the oldest man in the tournament at 56. “For the past two years I’ve been an older professional looking in from the outside, but now I am in I’m feeling good about it.”

The night’s other game sees Colin Lloyd and Peter Manley, ranked third and fourth in the world respectively, clash. “I think Peter’s only had one win against me in the Premier League so far, but that means nothing,” said Lloyd. “It’s a tough opening game and I will be ready to tackle him come Thursday night. “You want to get in there and start stamping a bit of authority straight away. You want to show people that you’re on form, up for it and playing well.”

Manley has been named as the 50/1 outsider for the tournament, but said: “A place in the semi-finals is obviously everybody’s aim. “In the first year I made the semis and last year I was almost in there until only a couple of games from the end,” said Manley. “Looking at the betting, I’ve been made the rank outsider with Dennis Priestley and sometimes that can be quite good because you aim to try and prove everyone wrong.”

The tournament sees the eight players face each other twice in best-of-14-leg matches over the coming 14 weeks. The top four players in the league table following this will progress to the play-offs, which are held on Monday 28 May at the Brighton Centre.

Holsten Premier League Darts, Night One, Plymouth Pavilions

Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis
Dennis Priestley v Terry Jenkins
Peter Manley v Colin Lloyd
Phil Taylor v Roland Scholten

Holsten Premier League Darts, Tournament Odds – Outright

Phil Taylor – Evens
Raymond van Barneveld 5/4
Adrian Lewis 16/1
Colin Lloyd 18/1
Roland Scholten 28/1
Terry Jenkins 33/1
Dennis Priestley 40/1
Peter Manley 50/1

Odds correct at 2pm, 31 January 2007

Every night of the 2007 Holsten Premier League Darts will be screened live on Sky Sports, with coverage beginning at 7.30pm.

Sky Sports commentator Sid Waddell is backing newcomer Adrian Lewis to make a splash on his Premier League debut.

“I am tipping Adrian Lewis to do some great things in this tournament,” said Waddell. “I think he will become World Champion in the next five years, he is maturing very rapidly. “He’s also proven himself to be an incredible short course player, as he showed when he reached the final of the World Series of Darts last year and demolished Priestley 11-1 in the semis. “This format could suit him as he gets out of the blocks brilliantly.”

Waddell added that he feels Raymond van Barneveld could be getting an edge over defending Premier League champion Phil Taylor following the Dutchman’s World Championship triumph last month. “Taylor has gone on a keep-fit regime since the World Championship final because he thought his stamina went at the end of the match,” added Waddell. “He’s a born fidgeter and has a style that is bound to produce negatives sometimes, with his stacking.

“It’s a complex way of playing when he tries to land the dart on the bottom of the treble 20 bed and place the next two darts on top, but he doesnt know any other way. “Barney is a more pure player and fills the bed with air shots, and he is taller so he is looking down on the 60 bed. “You have to feel that Barney and Adrian will be the stars. The pressure is on Taylor to get it right in the short course format, but he’s never lost in this event and we know how well he reacts in adversity.”

Further Sid Waddell Quotes

On the Premier League

It’s bigger and better than ever before. It’s part of the ever expanding world of darts. The Premier League is like a darts exhibition from heaven with the eight hottest players on the planet coming to a town near you. At my first World Championships back in 1978, there were 26 180s while there were an incredible 498 maximums at Purfleet in the World Championship recently. The 180s are going to be flying in like mad and it’s gonna be incredible. I can’t wait.

Adrian Lewis

Adrian is a showman who’s game gets better the bigger the occasion. He’s only 22 but he’s a World Champion in the making and someone who just loves the big crowds. Premier League fans are in for a treat and I know he’s well up for this. He celebrated qualification by flying to Gilbratar and reaching the final of the Stan James Players Championship and lost 3-1 to Barney in the final. As he’s so young he does get carried away at times and he needs to control the adrenalin and he mustn’t go blazing away as he’s up against the finest crop in the sport.

Dennis Priestley

Dennis has showed what he can do for the lads with bus passes. He’s 56 and from my generation yet playing the best darts of his career. He’s made a hatful of finals since 2005 when a group of his friends dragged him away from watching Coronation Street and into the pub to practice. He has a fantastic attitude and a great style. He also has some of the best supporters around and I’m sure the fans in the northern towns will be behind him.

Colin Lloyd

Colin’s the Kevin Pietersen of darts, a player of amazing talent who can pull off some incredible finishes. He’s a recent World Number One and a real momentum player – he’s brilliant at hitting the treble twenties when he’s playing well, but sometimes stays there too long and forgets the cover shots. However, his head can drop if he’s struggling and he gets frustrated. He can sometimes struggle to change the course of a game if he’s losing and you’ll see his balance go too. If he keeps his head up, he could be a serious threat.

Peter Manley

Peter Manley has an amazing eye for darts. He uses these big-barrelled darts and he has fantastic ability. However, Manley’s fault is within his heart; he’ll always be an exhibition player. He prepared too casually at the World Championship and was dumped in the second round. I’m not sure Peter has the cutting edge like Taylor, Barneveld or Lewis. You sometimes wonder if he’s there to entertain rather than compete. He’s lost heavily in finals because you get the impression that he’s just happy to get there. However, he’s more than capable of a few upsets during the Premier League.

Roland Scholten

Roland’s a superb player and should have beaten Phil Taylor in the Premier League semis in 2005 when he was several legs clear early on. If he has a fault, it’s that he seems to struggle to maintain good starts in matches and he has trouble closing games out. He loses faith in himself quickly and can almost self-destruct. Fans across the country will recognise his very odd alignment of the dart which makes him stand out from the crowd.

Terry Jenkins

Terry is a thinking man’s darts player, a player who plays as much in his mind as he does with his hand. If a match is going awry, he has the mental ability to think his way out of trouble. He’s not a natural like Adrian Lewis or Raymond van Barneveld, but he’s worked hard on his game and deserves to be in the Premier League. He’s played Taylor in the televised SkyBet World Grand Prix final in Dublin so he’s no stranger to the big stage.

Phil Taylor

He has won the past two Premier Leagues and has never lost a single match, including beating Lloyd in year one and Barney last year. The greatest player that ever drew breath is back and I’m sure he’ll be motivated for this title like never before. I know losing the World Championship crown would have hurt him terribly, and the way Phil responds to despair is always the same, to come back firing on all cylinders. There will be fireworks, there’s no doubt. However, he won’t find it easy. Players won’t be intimidated by him any longer. They know he is beatable, and he is – but I’d still put my mortgage on him being in the final.

Raymond van Barneveld

Raymond’s World Championship win has set up what should be the most exciting year of darts ever. He’s been a revelation since joining the PDC this time last year and I know he’ll be keen to make a run in the Premier League. Raymond has the perfect throwing action and he is the perfect height, 6ft 1 ¼, the same as Eric Bristow. His physical attributes are underpinned by his new calmness, which is the result of sessions with a sports psychologist. Players know they’ll have to average around 110 to beat Barney and his Army, so expect him to be in the final.

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