Teenage sensation Luke Littler has been handed a Premier League debut after his sensational run to the World Darts Championship final.
The 16-year-old captured the interest of the sporting world with his remarkable rookie appearance at Alexandra Palace, where he broke a host of world records and helped generate the highest viewing figures in the tournament’s history on his way to a runner-up finish.
Littler became the youngest player to win a World Darts Championship match and fired the best average by a debutant, with the rising star brushing aside UK Open winner Andrew Gilding, childhood hero Raymond van Barneveld and former world champion Rob Cross.
Luke Humphries called for him to be included in the Premier League line-up after recovering from 4-2 down to beat the new fans’ favourite 7-4 in an enthralling final, with the PDC now confirming that Littler is among the eight names confirmed for the 2024 campaign.
“It’s unbelievable,” Littler told Sky Sports News. “No more development tour. This is it. Playing in the Premier League and comfortably in the (world’s top) 32.
“As soon as I came off the stage, did the media and saw the family, my manager pulled me aside and said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it, it might not happen again’.
“I’ll probably have to take a break maybe from a few ProTours but I knew what was coming as soon as I said yes to the Premier League. This is just going to be an incredible experience.”
The Premier League will be staged on Thursday nights from February until May, starting at the Utilita Arena in Cardiff on February 1, with all 17 weeks from venues across the UK and Europe exclusively live on Sky Sports.
New world champion Humphries will headline this year’s edition after claiming four major titles in three months, having also won the World Grand Prix, Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship, with the 28-year-old now making a full Premier League debut after appearing as one of the ‘contenders’ during the 2019 format.
“[The Premier League] is my next target,” Humphries told Sky Sports. “This is going to be the toughest Premier League that we’ve ever seen and is going to be incredibly, incredibly tough to win.
“That is definitely one of the things on my résumé now that I’ll need to tick off, being Premier League champion.
“I fortunately missed out last year. I was so close to being involved, and the PDC made the right decision to leave me out because I went on to prove them wrong and pick up some incredible trophies this year. I’ll be really looking forward to it.”
Seven-time Premier League winner Michael van Gerwen will return as defending champion after successfully retaining his title last year, with the Dutchman looking to bounce back from his shock quarter-final exit to Scott Williams at the World Championship.
Last year’s runner-up Gerwyn Price is included and former world champion Michael Smith – who lost his world No 1 ranking with his fourth-round exit at Alexandra Palace – is back again with the current top six on the PDC Order of Merit included in the eight-man line-up.
2019 runner-up and former world champion Rob Cross is involved after failing to earn a spot in the previous two editions and Nathan Apsinall retains his place, while two-time world champion Peter Wright – who dropped to eighth in the world after a disappointing World Championship – features for an 11th consecutive year.
Porter: Littler inclusion an ‘obvious decision’
PDC chief executive Matthew Porter described Littler’s inclusion in this year’s Premier League field as an “obvious decision”, adding that he believes there’s no obvious candidate who can feel hard done by to miss out.
Humphries himself was a surprise omission last year when fifth in the PDC Order of Merit but he made himself a must-pick this time out after capping his remarkable recent run of major titles by lifting the Sid Waddell trophy this week.
“There wasn’t a decision to be made,” Porter said. “What Luke [Littler] has achieved over the last three weeks has rewritten the history books.
“It’s unprecedented, not only in darts but across sport. It was an obvious decision.
“His performances in every single round of the tournament got better and better. And the way he dealt with the media exposure and coverage he was getting, he brushed it all off and took it in his stride. There was no doubt in our mind he was ready for this.”
Porter added: “I don’t think there’s anybody who can honestly say, hand on heart, that they deserve to be in it [the Premier League] and they’re not.
“In the past, there have been players – Luke Humphries being one of them – where we’ve had to have honest conversations with them.
“I spoke to him and said, ‘We just don’t quite think you’re ready – go on and have a big year, prove that you’re ready for 2024’. You look at what he has achieved, particularly in recent weeks, he has absolutely smashed it out of the park.”
When is the 2024 Premier League?
The 2024 BetMGM Premier League Darts season will begin in Cardiff on the first day of February, with each of the 16 league nights featuring a mini-event where the eight players compete down to a winner.
Berlin, Glasgow, Newcastle and Exeter host events in February, before the Premier League roadshow heads to Brighton, Nottingham, Dublin and Belfast in March.
Manchester, Birmingham, Rotterdam and Liverpool are the cities for April’s nights before Aberdeen, Leeds and Sheffield host events in May, with the top four from the final league table progressing to the season-ending Play-Offs in London on May 23.
Premier League Darts returns to Sky Sports on Thursday February 1 as Cardiff kicks off the 17-week extravaganza all the way through to the Play-Offs on Thursday May 23. Stream Sky Sports Darts without a contract through NOW