Premier League Darts: The story of the Challengers so far
The 2020 Premier League Darts season resumes on August 25 in Milton Keynes, exclusively live on Sky Sports
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 24/08/20 6:32am
The Premier League is darts' biggest roadshow and it is a tournament that continues to innovate, evidenced by the 'Contenders' and 'Challengers' concept introduced last year.
Gary Anderson's withdrawal from the 2019 event forced the PDC's hand and its creative solution of introducing nine 'Contenders' proved popular, which saw the concept remodelled into the 'Challengers' format in 2020.
The tournament will resume behind closed doors at Milton Keynes' Marshall Arena on August 25, and Chris Dobey, Jeffrey de Zwaan and Jermaine Wattimena will be the final three from this year's crop hoping to make their mark, albeit in unique circumstances.
- Premier League Darts: Further four nights behind closed doors
- How successful has the Challengers format been?
Dobey and De Zwaan received rapturous receptions when they featured in Newcastle and Rotterdam respectively last year, while Wattimena's hopes of a dream debut at the Ahoy Arena have been curtailed.
There was conjecture surrounding the merits of persisting with the concept after none of last year's representatives registered a victory, but Luke Humphries rectified that statistic just prior to lockdown.
The nine 'Challengers' selected for both campaigns were comprised of stars of the future and local favourites and it has provided no shortage of memorable moments.
Premier League Contenders - 2019 results
|Chris Dobey||Drew 6-6 vs Mensur Suljovic|
|Glen Durrant||Lost 7-3 vs Daryl Gurney|
|Steve Lennon||Lost 7-5 vs Peter Wright|
|Luke Humphries||Drew 6-6 vs Gerwyn Price|
|John Henderson||Drew 6-6 vs Michael van Gerwen|
|Nathan Aspinall||Lost 7-2 vs Michael Smith|
|Max Hopp||Lost 7-3 vs Raymond van Barneveld|
|Dimitri Van den Bergh||Drew 6-6 vs James Wade|
|Jeffrey de Zwaan||Lost 7-4 vs Rob Cross|
Premier League Challengers - 2020 results
|John Henderson||Lost 7-3 vs Nathan Aspinall|
|Fallon Sherrock||Drew 6-6 vs Glen Durrant|
|Jonny Clayton||Lost 7-1 vs Michael Smith|
|William O'Connor||Lost 7-4 vs Michael van Gerwen|
|Luke Humphries||Won 7-5 vs Gary Anderson|
|Stephen Bunting||Drew 6-6 vs Rob Cross|
John Henderson and William O'Connor's incredible entrances in Aberdeen and Dublin respectively will live long in the memory, as they revelled in the adulation they received from partisan home crowds.
"I'm delighted with how it went. I don't think I've ever witnessed anything like that in my career, it was tremendous," Henderson reflected after his 6-6 draw with Michael van Gerwen in last year's edition.
O'Connor also faced Van Gerwen in this year's showpiece and he echoed Henderson's sentiments, despite succumbing 7-4 to the world No 1.
"Regardless of the result, this is the best night of my life. It was everything that I could have wished for and more," admitted the Irishman.
Providing a platform
Critics have pointed towards the concept's novelty factor that devalues the competition, although for many of those who have played starring roles, it has provided a platform for great success over the last 12 months.
Nathan Aspinall and Glen Durrant - two of last year's nine 'Contenders' - are now permanent fixtures in the 2020 competition.
Aspinall was beaten 7-2 by Michael Smith in Nottingham last year, but since then, he has added the US Masters title to his UK Open crown, before reaching his second straight World Championship semi-final to climb up to sixth in the world.
Durrant was bitterly disappointed to lose 7-3 to Daryl Gurney on his debut back in February 2019, but he currently tops this year's table after six fixtures and boasts four major televised semi-finals on his growing resume.
Dimitri Van den Bergh made his Premier League bow in Rotterdam last year and played out a thrilling draw with James Wade, although the Belgian was not included as one of this year's 'Challengers'.
Nevertheless, 'The Dream Maker' lived up to his nickname at last month's World Matchplay, storming to the title on debut to become the first Belgian to lift a major televised PDC title.
Van den Bergh had frequently been touted as a future major champion due to his fearless big-stage persona and, despite this year's omission, the 26-year-old is now a virtual certainty to appear in the 2021 roadshow as a full-time fixture.
Humphries etched his name into Premier League history in March, defeating two-time winner Anderson to become the first 'Challenger' to triumph in the competition.
There was a certain irony that Anderson was the first to be beaten by a Challenger, considering the format was only introduced as a result of his withdrawal with a back problem in 2019.
'Cool Hand' had claimed a point against Gerwyn Price 12 months earlier and, prior to his latest appearance, he had lifted the World Youth Championship title and featured in a second successive Alexandra Palace quarter-final.
Humphries appears to be cast in a similar mould to Aspinall and Van den Bergh - emerging stars who thrive in a big-stage environment, but now it is about taking that next step by landing a senior title.
"I live and breathe darts, it runs through my blood, I absolutely love the game and there's nothing more in this world I'd want more than to be successful in this game," Humphries said after toppling 'The Flying Scotsman'.
The World Youth champion remains the only Challenger to taste victory, although former BDO world champion Stephen Bunting almost repeated the feat just seven days later, holding Rob Cross to a draw in Liverpool.
However, Humphries was not the only player to make history in this year's Premier League. On Night Two of the 2020 roadshow in Nottingham, Fallon Sherrock certainly made her mark.
Following her ground-breaking exploits at the World Championship, Sherrock was rewarded with an appearance at the Motorpoint Arena, where she became the first female to compete in the event since its 2005 inception.
'The Queen of the Palace' almost capped off her debut with a landmark win, only for Durrant to salvage a point from 6-4 adrift, but it proved to be another milestone moment for the women's game, and further affirmation that Sherrock could compete at the highest level.
Stagnation and frustration
The Premier League has provided a platform for several stars to elevate their game to the next level, but for the likes of Steve Lennon and Max Hopp, that has not yet materialised.
Lennon narrowly lost out to Peter Wright on Night Two in 2019 and produced an inspired display to lead Ireland to the World Cup of Darts final just months later, but since then his form has plummeted.
The 26-year-old has only once progressed beyond the last 16 of a ranking event since last June and having been on the verge of breaking into the world's top 32, he now finds himself languishing in 44th position.
Hopp's much-anticipated homecoming in Berlin did not come to fruition in 2019 when he succumbed to a struggling Raymond van Barneveld.
'The Maximiser' remains Germany's No 1 in terms of ranking position, although in the eyes of many - Gabriel Clemens is now the nation's leading light.
Despite the wealth of experience he has under his belt, Hopp only turns 24 next week and certainly has time on his side, but he will be eager to start making the strides he knows he is capable of, or risk being usurped by the likes of Clemens and the emerging Nico Kurz.
Points to prove
Wattimena will make his Premier League bow in Milton Keynes over the coming days, while Dobey and De Zwaan return after featuring as Contenders in 2019.
The latter pair both produced impressive displays on their debuts and although there will not be the incentive of performing for a partisan home crowd, both will feel they have a point to prove.
Dobey enjoyed a breakthrough 2019, reaching two major semi-finals at the World Grand Prix and the Players Championship Finals, and he credits his Premier League cameo for giving him the hunger to kick on.
"I felt I handled it quite well last year. Playing in those circumstances with all the crowd for me - it's a nice feeling and I think that gave me the kick-start I needed to go a little further and get into more TV majors," he told Sky Sports earlier this year.
He is up to a career high of 19th in the world but remains the highest-ranked player in world darts without a senior title to his name, while De Zwaan will also be keen to silence some critics.
Since reaching the World Matchplay semi-finals in 2018, the Dutchman is yet to consistently deliver on the big stage, though he has demonstrated glimpses of his quality - posting the highest average of the 2020 World Championship in his third-round victory over Dave Chisnall.
'The Black Cobra' has claimed several big scalps in the televised arena but consistency has been an issue and it is one he openly admits he will have to rectify if he is to shift the 'Challenger' tag and become a regular contender for major honours.