Big-time darts is back in Leeds

Peter "Snakebite" Wright
Peter "Snakebite" Wright
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SNAKEBITE VERSUS the Flying Scotsman can mean only one thing - big-time darts is back in Leeds.

A packed house of around 12,000 is expected at the First Direct Arena on Thursday when the Professional Darts Corporation’s Betway Premier League makes its fourth visit to the city.

Peter "Snakebite" Wright

Peter "Snakebite" Wright

The first of five matches, involving the world’s top players, will see Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright square up to Gary ‘Flying Scotsman’ Anderson, a two-time former world champion.

It could be an explosive start to an evening of high-octane arrows action, which also includes the el-classico clash between two of the all-time greats, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and Raymond Van Barneveld’ and James ‘The Machine’ Wade’s clash with Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis.

Wright is in hot form after winning three PDC titles - all UK Open Qualifiers - in nine days, but admitted he needs to bounce back from a 7-3 Premier League defeat by world champion Michael Van Gerwen last week.

The 46-year-old Scot was 6-0 down and saw Van Gerwen miss three darts to secure only the eighth whitewash in Premier League history.

“I forgot my darts,” Wright told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I left them in my hotel room.

“When I got to the venue [in Nottingham] I thought ‘hang on a minute..’ Someone had to go back and get them, which was a bit silly.”

Wright didn’t blame that hic-up for his defeat and reckons he has put things right in time for the trip to Leeds.

“I know what I did wrong,” he said of the poor performance in Nottingham and subsequent UK Open Qualifiers.

“I wasn’t standing still on the oche, I was all over the place - it was bad, but I have put that right.

“I’ve been working on it and I won on Sunday, so it should be a good game against Gary.”

UK Open Qualifiers are played at a closed venue, with no fans, in Wigan.

Tonight will be at the opposite end of the scale, in front of what is becoming known as one of the most raucous and enthusiastic crowds in the sport.

The Premier League first visited Leeds in 2014 and opened there for the past two years, but tonight is week three of the 2017 tournament.

“It is a huge arena,” said Wright, who drew 6-6 with Van Barneveld at Leeds in 2014, lost 7-1 to Dave Chisnall the following year and beat Michael Smith 7-2 12 months ago.

“It was good to get the win last year and hopefully I can do the same.”

Wright expects the Leeds audience to be in good voice and he insisted: “It’s better playing in front of a crowd than in totally silent and freezing cold halls.

“It is a lot better to play in front of a crowd, on TV. It gets the adrenaline going and if you are playing well you can shut the noise out.

“Sometimes when I’ve played on the big stage I’ve been in the zone that much it has felt like I was back at home practicing.

“You feel that relaxed you forget about the crowd.”

Wright’s game against Anderson is first on and he said: “That’s good in one way, because you know exactly what time you are going to be playing.

“Some games could be a draw and they go on a bit, or it might be 7-1 and it’s over quicker than you expect.

“At least being first you know where you are.”

Wright, ranked No 3 in the world, is known for his colourful image - flamboyant trousers and whacky hairstyle - as much as his marksmanship.

The Leeds crowd will have to wait and see what he has in store this week. “I don’t know,” he admitted when asked if his hair will have a Yorkshire theme.

“It’s up to the boss, my wife Jo does it all - I just play darts.

“I am running out of outfits and I’m waiting for a delivery so I don’t know what she has got planned.

“It will be a good surprise.”

All matches are played over the best of 12 legs. Lewis and Wade are second on, followed by Taylor and Van Barneveld.

Fourth is the all-dutch shootout between Van Gerwen and Jelle Klaasen and Chisnall’s match against Kim Huybrechts will close the show.

The action is due to begin at 7pm.