They are the former champions taking aim at another Premier League crown and both Michael van Gerwen and James Wade fancy their chances of further glory at The O2 on Thursday night.
With the exception of the departing Raymond van Barneveld, Wade and Van Gerwen were the veterans of this year’s Premier League line-up.
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‘The Machine’ was making his tenth appearance following his 2018 omission, whilst the Dutchman was featuring in his seventh consecutive campaign.
They’re the only two semi-finalists to have tasted Premier League glory before although they’ve certainly enjoyed contrasting fortunes in this competition over recent years.
Van Gerwen has monopolised the Premier League since his debut in 2013 – topping the league phase for seven consecutive seasons and winning four titles in the process.
However, prior to this season, Wade’s last Play Off appearance came in 2013, when he was beaten in the semi-finals by a certain Dutch debutant.
However, the nine-time major winner is back in the big time after statistically enjoying his finest Premier League season to date and he has his eyes firmly on the prize.
“I think I’m dangerous,” said Wade. “I think I can win it, I know I can win it but I’ve got to go and do it. The confidence is starting to grow, I’m starting to believe in myself a bit more.”
Wade’s career was at a crossroads in 2017, after he suffered opening-round exits at the World Championship, World Matchplay and World Grand Prix.
This saw him omitted from last year’s Premier League, whilst he also relinquished his top 10 status for the first time in over a decade.
Yet ironically, a decade on from his maiden Premier League triumph, Wade is arguably enjoying one of the best spells of his career and he tells the Darts Show that’s because he’s fallen back in love with the sport.
“I’ve been out of form for five years, one because I fell out of love with the game and two, my throw was all over the place. I’ve got my throwback and I’m enjoying the game again.
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“It’s a lot easier to enjoy the game when you’re playing well and I’ve been playing awfully for five years, but I was still there or thereabouts even when I was playing bad.
“It’s an easier game when you’re playing better. When you’re not mixing it, it is torture,” he added.
Wade takes on World No 2 Rob Cross – the man he defeated in Leeds just seven days ago, for a place in the final, although ‘The Machine’ insists he isn’t perturbed by the prospect of being underestimated.
“I’ve got Rob Cross on Thursday night and he is uber-confident. He’s the most confident player I know. He’s more confident than Michael.
“I’m always overlooked as a rule, which means I’m left alone. It’s happened every time I’ve been anywhere near the later stages of a TV title, which is good.”
Nevertheless, whilst Wade relishes the underdog tag, his fellow Premier League champion Van Gerwen covets the pressure and expectation that comes with being the World No 1 and defending champion.
“I feel good. I always play well in this arena so I can’t really complain,” Van Gerwen told the Darts Show podcast.
“I was a little bit lucky [to finish top] but if someone was going to beat Rob Cross it was going to be James Wade, simple.
“Tomorrow you have to play your A-game and you can’t afford to make any mistakes. Also more games on one night suits me usually, a lot of players their mindset is not right at that moment but I’m used to it, I’ve done it before and I know what I have to do.
“That’s what I want to do tomorrow, especially on nights like these when it really counts.
MVG’s PL Record 2013 1st Winner 2014 1st Runner-Up 2015 1st Runner-Up 2016 1st Winner 2017 1st Winner 2018 1st Winner 2019 1st TBC
“There’s only one other guy who knows what it’s like and that’s James Wade, because he has been in loads of finals, but I do it so many times a year, for me it’s regular.”
Van Gerwen boasts an extremely impressive Finals Night record. He’s won each of his previous six Premier League semi-finals and he’s never averaged below 102 in a single Premier League final.
‘The Green Machine’ is also bidding to win his fourth consecutive title at The O2 and his fifth in total, although he faces a tough test in the shape of Daryl Gurney.
The Northern Irishman has beaten MVG in each of their last three televised clashes, although the Dutchman did win their most recent meeting at the Austrian Darts Open.
Although it’s a record that may cause Van Gerwen some concern, he insists Thursday’s semi-final will be a totally different proposition.
“To be fair Daryl [Gurney] is a good player, but when you play him in the semi-finals when it’s a knockout stage of the tournament it’s totally different.
“I’m going to start the game, it’s first to 10 legs so it’s totally different compared to the other two games.
“I need to make sure my preparation is 100 per cent and you don’t need to make sure the adrenaline gets in your body, it will be there because at that moment it’s now or never.
“Otherwise you’re out of the tournament, you’re gone and you have to wait another year to get the title back.”
The difference in demeanour between Van Gerwen and Wade is compelling. Both have enjoyed remarkable consistency throughout their Premier League careers, although both have completely contrasting approaches.
Wade is typically self-effacing and his parting shot is to remark: “I’ll do my thing and hopefully I’ll come out as the winner.”
In contrast, Van Gerwen concludes with this ominous warning: “You have to believe in yourself but deep inside they know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”