WHEN the Premier League was extended to 10 players no one was sure if the elimination idea would work. In fact, Barry Hearn said if it works it was his idea and if it didn't I'd have to take the blame!
Well, it has worked. Four players – Adrian Lewis, Simon Whitlock, Gary Anderson and Wes Newton – could be sent home on Thursday night and that's what everybody's talking about.
It's been so close from top to bottom and there's no doubt these are the 10 best players in the world but nobody wants to say they've been relegated. That's what they're scrapping to avoid on Thursday.
Several top players didn't participate in the European Masters in Germany last weekend, which is a shame as we want to promote the game abroad.
However, Newton won the tournament and played extremely well in doing so – and now I really hope he builds on that momentum and survives elimination.
By winning the tournament he will take great confidence into the Premier League's Judgement Night and it should be a great event in Brighton.
Here's how I see things unfolding:
Adrian Lewis v Raymond van Barneveld
There's big pressure on Adrian Lewis going on first and he has to set the standard for the night. He doesn't need to win his game to survive, he just needs enough legs to stay ahead of the others, but he mustn't go up there thinking like that.
He has to go up there trying to win the game. Remember he doesn't just want to stay clear of relegation – he wants to finish in the top four and book his place at the O2 Arena. He's got away with a few results by doing the right things at the right time – which is what you'd expect of a double world champion – but this won't be an easy game for him.
Barney is playing extremely well and if he goes 3-0 up then Lewis may start to panic – because a 7-2 defeat could see him end up relegated. The early part of the game is vital here and Lewis mustn't make any mistakes. There's no pressure on Barney, though, who is joint top of the league and if he's relaxed then he could be dangerous.
Phil Taylor v Robert Thornton
This game doesn't have a bearing on the bottom two but it will have an effect on the top of the table. It would mean a lot for Phil Taylor to be leading after nine events
He went back to his old darts in his game against Van Barneveld last week and is a lot happier and played a lot better with them. Robert Thornton is playing absolutely brilliantly at the moment and we know he is going to put up a massive fight but I think Taylor's back on form and I expect him to edge this one.
ROD'S CALL: Taylor wins (1-2, various)strong>
Wes Newton v Andy Hamilton
Wes Newton played extremely well during a gruelling three days out in Germany and put himself on the line a little bit by going out there. He could have ducked out like some of the other players did, saying he needed to rest, but instead he went there and won.
That means he's going to arrive in Brighton more confident than the others. However, Andy Hamilton is a fighter and even though he's not in the relegation zone he will be looking to win. After the week he's had – beating Anderson in Glasgow and then winning in Germany – I'd like to see Wes go on and win it. This might be the first time I've tipped him to win all year but I think he'll be full of beans and will get the job done.
ROD'S CALL: Newton wins (7-4, various)
Gary Anderson v James Wade
Gary Anderson has been on a bit of a downer lately. Like a few of the top players he missed the tournament at the weekend and while it might have been hard work I think he should have gone. Remember, Barney wasn't going to play in the Grand Slam last year but turned up at the last minute and won it – and he's had his form back ever since.
I've got to go with James Wade here, who was as good as I've seen him for two years in Glasgow last week. He wasn't feeling too well but played as solid as anything and looked focused. On form I can only see a Wade win – but if Anderson turns up he's always capable of beating anybody.
ROD'S CALL: Wade wins (10-11, William Hill) and Anderson is relegated
Michael van Gerwen v Simon Whitlock
I expect Simon Whitlock to need a win from this last match to survive but he's playing a player at the top of his form. Michael van Gerwen lost in the semi-final in Germany but Paul Nicholson had to play extremely well to beat him.
I predicted Whitlock would finish in the top four at the start of the league but a couple of odd results have gone against him and he's missed a few doubles that you wouldn't expect him to. That's why he's in the position he's in. Van Gerwen will go up there and pound the dartboard and Whitlock will need some ton-plus shot-outs and some 12-dart legs to give himself a chance – and if he gets into him then he's got a massive chance.
This match is a bad draw for him and I'm leaning towards the Dutchman – which would see Whitlock going out of the competition.
ROD'S CALL: Van Gerwen wins (8-11, Coral) and Whitlock is relegated