Phil Taylor looking forward to Premier League Darts in Belfast
The new-look McCoy's Premier League Darts season kicks off at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on Thursday night.
Last Updated: 07/02/13 10:01pm
The increase to 10 players in the 2013 Premier League has led to the introduction of relegation for the bottom two players after Week Nine, before the remaining eight players continue their battle for play-off places.
Defending champion Phil Taylor, who is seeking to win the title for a seventh time, starts his campaign against Dutchman Michael van Gerwen in a repeat of the World Championship final which the Englishman won 7-4 after trailing 4-2.
Taylor said: "I'm really looking forward to the McCoy's Premier League season and to play Michael in my first game is fantastic because it will be a brilliant game.
"The last time we played was in the World Championship final and that was one of the hardest matches I've ever had in my career.
"It's great to see Michael in the Premier League this year but the field as a whole is stronger than ever - it's going to be a memorable season."
Debutant Robert Thornton, the 2012 UK Open champion, will play Andy Hamilton in the opening game in Belfast.
"It's going to be a different experience for me and I'll just take one match at a time and enjoy it," said Thornton.
Another new face, Fleetwood's world No 7 Wes Newton, then makes his Premier League debut in the night's second game as he faces 2009 champion James Wade.
"It's something I wanted so much and I've finally got it so I'm over the moon. I suppose it will finally seem real when I go up on stage for the first time," said Newton.
2011 champion Gary Anderson will then meet five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld, and 2012 runner-up Simon Whitlock then takes on Adrian Lewis before Taylor and van Gerwen lock horns.
Twice-world champion Lewis said: "I'm really excited about the Premier League and, coming into the tournament on the back of winning the World Cup last weekend, my confidence is high, so I can't wait to get up on stage.
"It would be great to get a good start in Belfast but I know I've got a tough game against Simon Whitlock. He reached the final last year and he's a fantastic player who seems to come into his own in this tournament, so I've got my work cut out - but I'm up for the challenge."