Cross relishing Premier League challenge

Rob Cross (right) and Michael van Gerwen stand alongside the Unibet Premier League trophy ahead of their opening night showdown in Dublin tonight. Picture courtesy Lawrence Lustig/PDC
Rob Cross (right) and Michael van Gerwen stand alongside the Unibet Premier League trophy ahead of their opening night showdown in Dublin tonight. Picture courtesy Lawrence Lustig/PDC

World darts champion Rob Cross is relishing the challenge of playing in the Unibet Premier League for the first time.

The St Leonards-based thrower will take on world number one and defending champion Michael van Gerwen on the opening night of the hotly-anticipated competition tonight (Thursday).

The match, at Dublin’s 3Arena, will be a re-run of the classic World Championship semi-final between the two men at the end of December, which Cross eventually won after a sudden death leg.

“Last year was a bit of a whirlwind, a learning curve all the way through, and this year will be no different,” Cross told the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).

“Usually I deal with it and I’m going to enjoy it. The challenge of going out every week in the Premier League I think is excellent. It’s a great opportunity to show what I can do.

“I’ve never experienced the Premier League so it’s going to be a little bit new and it will take a couple of weeks to settle in.”

Cross’s remarkable rise has seen him move up to third in the world rankings after only a year as a professional.

After losing to Mensur Suljovic in the quarter-finals of the Unibet Masters on Sunday, the 27-year-old is now set to make his debut in the Premier League - a 16-week roadshow event which will stop off all over the UK, as well as Ireland, Holland and Germany.

The 10-man Premier League field features four debutants among six changes from 2017 and the clash between Cross and van Gerwen will headline five huge matches on the opening night.

Van Gerwen - who won last weekend’s Unibet Masters to prepare for the Premier League in perfect fashion - has dismissed talk of being on a revenge mission when he steps on stage in Dublin.

“It would be nice to win on Thursday and I’m looking forward to this Premier League,” said the Dutchman. “I don’t look at the game as revenge because we’re going to play each other so many times.

“I want to put the pressure on Rob straight away on Thursday and continue my form from last weekend, and I’d like to pick up two points here in front of this phenomenal crowd.

“There’s a lot of new players but that will make it more fun for everyone. In my opinion, I think these guys deserve to be here based on last year - they all stood up and showed their class.”

Cross, nicknamed Voltage, is the 7/2 second favourite for the Premier League title with sponsors Unibet, behind 8/11 favourite van Gerwen.

The opening night’s other games will see Suljovic face Simon Whitlock, Gary Anderson up against Michael Smith, Daryl Gurney take on Raymond van Barneveld and Peter Wright play Gerwyn Price. The action will be televised live on Sky Sports.