Rob Cross and Daryl Gurney had different Premier League debuts last year, but in 2019 both men head to Thursday’s Play Offs with confidence, having learned plenty along the way.
Cross and Gurney were two of four debutants to feature in last year’s Premier League, in the tournament’s biggest shake-up since its inception in 2005.
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Cross recovered from a nightmare start to comfortably seal a top four spot, whilst Gurney failed to win any of his opening six fixtures, which saw him miss out on the Play Offs despite a storming second half of the season.
Gurney is making his debut at the iconic O2 and Cross is a relative novice to the Play Offs, having suffered a semi-final defeat against Michael van Gerwen 12 months ago.
Nevertheless, both are established major champions and they certainly possess the credentials to upset the odds and become the sixth different Premier League winner.
Cross just missed out on top spot after losing to James Wade last week – the man he faces in the semi-finals.
‘Voltage’ could have been just the third player in Premier League history to finish top of the league phase and although he concedes it was a disappointment, he insists it’s all a learning curve.
“I was bothered. Obviously you put the work in for 16 weeks and you fall flat on your face but it’s one of them, you live and learn,” Cross told the Darts Show podcast.
“That’s the worst thing about the game, you live and learn and you get the experience and next time that comes around, if the opportunity comes along you won’t let it slip.”
The World No 2 is only entering his third year as a full-time professional, although he’s already sampled many more major occasions than a number of seasoned veterans.
However, ‘Voltage’ believes the experience of his Premier League debut 12 months ago has been instrumental in his improvement this term.
“I think the way the Premier League has gone for me this year I’ve been a lot more relaxed, I know what’s going on.
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“I know what the schedule is and I think just understanding it I feel in control, whereas last year it spiralled out and I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Cross also revealed a startling statistic about the pace of his throw last year: “I have someone – he assesses me quite a lot and he said last year for the majority I threw four seconds faster than I did the year before.
“Maybe it was a little bit of nerves there. At the same time I’ve slowed down a bit more now, I’ve got more of a rhythm. I feel happy with my game and as long as I do that tomorrow I should be fine.
“I’m confident, I feel good. I feel really good. By this time last year I was worn out, I had nothing left. This year I feel like I’ve just started,” he added.
There are a number of similarities between Cross and Gurney. The pair are ranked second and fourth respectively on the Order of Merit, but despite the vast strides they’ve made in the game, they are still relatively inexperienced compared to many of their counterparts.
Like Cross, Gurney’s emergence has also been rapid and the two-time major champion believes he’s still yet to reach his peak.
“I’m still learning, I’m still improving I think. I’ve still got a lot of improving to do in myself. I can get better and one of these days I’ll be an actual good dart player,” Gurney quipped.
“I always like to try and improve on what I’ve done in previous years to show that I am improving.
Obviously I’ve played a lot on TV now in the last couple of years but I’ve only been at the top of my game for probably two and a half years, so it’s not very long.”
The Northern Irishman endured a tumultuous start to the campaign, suffering successive drubbings against Cross and Wade on Night Four and Night Five respectively, which saw him collect just one leg.
He was languishing in eighth following Night Six but he enjoyed a blistering second half of the campaign, claiming seven points from his last four matches to pip Gerwyn Price and Mensur Suljovic to fourth spot.
“After a couple of those bad results against James [Wade] and Rob [Cross] I’d have loved to have seen the odds for me to qualify here but I’m glad to be here. That point against Gerwyn [Price} was probably the biggest point I got all season,” Gurney admits.
The Players Champion faces World No 1 Michael van Gerwen in Thursday’s first semi-final, although that prospect holds no fears for Gurney.
He’s won his last three televised tussles against the Dutchman and he became just the second player in Premier League history to complete the league double over MVG – a fact Gurney again attributes to experience.
“Before I started beating Michael, I played Michael, I didn’t play the board,” admitted ‘Super Chin’.
Gurney’s recent run over MVG
Daryl Gurney is the first player to register three consecutive televised wins over Michael van Gerwen since Phil Taylor in 2016.
“Whenever you’re playing Michael he’s such a rhythm player that I was getting caught up in his speed so I’ve slowed myself down, composed myself so it’s probably what I’ve changed over the last few months.”
Van Gerwen and Wade may have the experience, but Cross and Gurney have crucially crossed the finishing line in major tournaments.