It must be Christmas – why I love the PDC World Darts Championships


There’s nothing quite like the excitement I feel on the opening night of the PDC World Darts Championships.

The first tangible sign that Christmas is around the corner, and the start of a fortnight of riveting easy-to-watch TV it is probably one of my highlights of the sporting calendar (of course it’s a sport!)

Since I first got into watching the PDC on Sky in around 2004, the game has enjoyed a boom period under the stewardship of Barry Hearn and I have become a hooked armchair fan with the world championships the highlight of the year on Sky Sports (not the crappy inferior BDO one they show on the BBC in the new year).

A lot of people like to snigger at darts with, in my view, often with no less than a large amount of snobbery. Their loss.

What makes it so damn watchable? Darts has two strengths – its simplicity and fast pace.
It’s easy to follow and the rhythm and entertainment of a quality game is absorbing.

Add to that no shortage of razzmatazz with the MC’s introductions, walk-ons, players’ nicknames (not sure about James Wilson’s new ‘Lethal Biscuit’ moniker – only in darts!), the music, the rather stunning walk-on girls, the personalities and not to mention the now iconic darts tune played at the break (Planet Funk Chase The Sun).

And as a ‘St Helenian’ there are a couple (three if you count Liverpudlian import Stephen Bunting) hometown interests to cheer on; Dave ‘Chizzy’ Chisnall and Michael Smith.

Who’s gonna win it the? It’s hard to look past the relentless odds-on favourite Michael van Gerwen who started well last night. Gary Anderson can trouble him but I think it is the Dutchman’s to lose.

Of course it’s the great Phil Taylor’s last championship of course – but I suspect a 17th tile may be beyond him now, although I’m reluctant to ever fully write him off.

Outside shouts – Serbian-born Mensur Suljovic has had a great year and may do well and it would be great to see crowd favourite Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright progress far again.

Game On!

Blood, guts and no glory


Wow. What a bruiser that was.

I’m still catching my breath now after just watching, as Australia edged England to win the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

A mere 6-0 scoreline can’t possibly tell the story to do justice to one of the most brutal and tense games of rugby I can remember seeing.

But in the end it was yet again agony for us long-suffering English RL fans as the Aussies took the trophy as a 15th minute Boyd Cordner try ultimately made the difference as England’s heroic efforts fell short.

We threw everything at them and for the first time in a while against the Kangaroos looked the stronger team going into the late stages.
In the humid Brisbane heat, the Aussies looked out on their feet, happy to protect a 6-0 lead as England kept hammering at the Aussie line trying desperately to find a way over.

But that chink in the Green & Gold armour was never found as England were again heartbreakingly left to ponder what might have been.

As so often in Test matches, the little crucial moments seem to go against us.
What if Kallum Watkins had released the ball earlier to McGillvary when we had the overlap in the first half? What if Watkins hadn’t had his ankle tapped by a last-ditch effort? What if we had a left-side attack as half as effective as the right? (Bateman at centre I’ll never understand, Wayne).

But, despite me left wondering if the glorious day I do see us win a major tournament against Australia will ever come, at least it provided a fitting end to a memorable tournament.

International rugby league has received a huge boost for its future. And, hopefully, despite the agony, so have England.

A home series against New Zealand awaits next year followed by the return of Great Britain on tour Down Under in 2019. I already can’t wait.

Time for one more World Cup fairy-tale?

It was threatening to be a tremendous flop at one stage but overall I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

After witnessing successful tournaments in 2008 and 2013, my hopes were high for a great festival of the Greatest Game Down Under.

But with some sub-par crowds displayed the Aussies’ NRL and State of Origin-centric mindset fears were it was set to be the most disappointing tournament since the fiasco of 2000.

And then it was saved.
Undoubtedly the story of the competition, Tonga gave international rugby league its biggest shot in the arm in ages as the tipped pre-tournament dark horses beat the Kiwis in Hamilton and bring the tournament to life.

A further shock was still to come when the Kiwis succumbed to a 4-2 quarter-final defeat to Fiji, with the Bati captain Kevin Naiqama’s post-match tears an enduring image of the tournament.

My expectations of good crowds off the field but predictability on it had been completely inverted. While attendances have been a mixed bag (with great turnouts in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand), the tournament will be remembered for finally seeing the cartel of rugby league’s ‘Big 3’ broken.

And the drama continued in the semi-finals as England reached their first World Cup final in 22 years after seeing of the late Tongan resurgence to win 20-18 in Auckland.

What an occasion it was with a packed out 30,000 crowd of mostly fanatical Tongans making what mus have been an atmosphere unlike any other the English players had experienced.

As I had my head in my hands fearing a repeat of Shaun Johnson’s last-minute heart breaker in 2013 at Wembley, Adam Fifita was denied what would have been the match-winner in the last seconds as the Aussie ref ruled he’d knocked on. Looking at the replay I think he did get it right (England bias aside) and Whitehead went for the arm. Not that the thousands of Tongans who took to the streets of Auckland to demand a rematch will believe it.

Hopefully we’ll see the Tongans involved in more top-level international competition and that the tournament can leave a true legacy for a brighter future for international rugby league.

So, all that remains is the small matter of England against the Aussies in Brisbane for the final. Being a mere infant the last time we reached a final, this is the first World Cup final I’ll see England (or Great Britain) play in and I’m already looking forward to it, with the mercifully later kick-off of 9am making it easier to catch live.

While it would be a touch optimistic to say I think we’ll win, I’m confident we’ll push them close. England have improved gradually through the tournament, and were excellent for 70 minutes against Tonga.

There should be no danger of us switching off as we did last week and if we can put in another improved performance you never know.

We’ll certainly need the Kangaroos to be off their best but who knows, perhaps our first World Cup success in 45 years would be the perfect way to end a tournament of many ground-breaking rugby league stories.

Prediction: Australia by 10.