A total of 13 players will be representing Team Target at the 2022 PDC World Darts Championship, with three former winners (Rob Cross, Raymond van Barneveld and Adrian Lewis) hoping to regain the title at Alexandra Palace.
The format sees 5 Target stars enter at the second-round stage as part of the 32 seeded players for the tournament. The first-round features 32 qualifiers from the year-long Pro Tour Order of Merit taking on 32 players to have emerged from various different qualifying events - international, youth and the Women's Series.
Despite being former champions themselves, "Barney" and "Jackpot" are among 5 Target players who will compete in round one as Pro Tour qualifiers, with 3 further Target stars (Paul Lim, Danny Lauby and Bradley Brooks) coming through other qualifying routes. The draw has not seen any all-Target clashes in round one, but we could see some of our players going head-to-head as early as round two.
With £2,500,000 in ranking prize money available in North London, the next three weeks is an opportunity to change players' lives and careers. Below, we assess each of our stars' chances, based on their form and the draw for the tournament.
All the players below are ranked in the top 32 in the world, meaning that they enter at the second round (last 64) stage.
Best: Semi-final 2019, 2020
Opener: Joe Murnan or Paul Lim
The highest-ranked member of Target's cohort at Ally Pally has had a year of peaks and troughs. While "The Asp" has not added to his haul of titles in 2021, he had an excellent Premier League and has looked very impressive in the last 3 months. A run on the European Tour in Gibraltar was the catalyst and Nathan produced a ludicrous comeback from 1-7 down to only lose 10-11 to Michael van Gerwen in the semi-finals of the European Champion.
The former UK Open champion adores playing in front of big crowds and is champing at the bit to perform in front of a packed Alexandra Palace - where he has reached the semi-finals twice before. World No.2 Peter Wright lurks in his quarter, but there are question marks over the biggest names immediately near him in the draw - with neither Mensur Suljovic nor Jose de Sousa performing at their best of late. The more dangerous threat could come from Brendan Dolan or Callan Rydz in the third round, but not before he faces a potential all-Target clash with the legendary Paul Lim.
The form is pretty good, the draw has not been too harsh, and it would be no surprise to see "The Asp" go on another deep World Championship run.
Best: Champion 2018
Opener: Raymond van Barneveld or Lourence Ilagan
The sky is once again the limit for "Voltage", who heads into the World Championship this year as the reigning European Champion. Cross recaptured the title in Salzburg to maintain his place amongst the very elite in the rankings, but more importantly to confirm that he was back in form. A second title followed on the Pro Tour just a week later and now Cross believes that he is playing at similar levels to that which saw him crowned World Champion on debut in 2018.
It could be major champions whom he has to face right the way through the tournament, with Daryl Gurney, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen all potential opponents en route to the semi-finals - but it could all start with Target's very own Raymond van Barneveld. A "Voltage" versus "Barney" game would be one of the standout ties of the second round, pitting two players who won the title a decade apart against one another - but Cross should fear nobody, and will be desperate to put things right after early exits in both the last two years.
Best: Semi-final 2021
Opener: Ross Smith or Jeff Smith
Bunting is a man bursting with confidence after a great year both on televised stages and away from them and he will need every ounce of that confidence to deal with a very difficult section of the draw.
"The Bullet" picked up his first PDC title in half a decade this year and reached two major semi-finals, starting with last year's World Championship and then followed by a run at the Grand Prix. In both cases he had to beat James Wade and Ryan Searle but ended up losing to world number one Gerwyn Price. Unfortunately for Stephen, while he has avoided Wade and Searle, Ross or Jeff Smith followed by a potential meeting with Dirk van Duijvenbode looks just as tricky and then he could meet Gerwyn Price in the last 16. Such is Bunting's outlook on darts right now though, that he will view the draw as a challenge to be met, rather than a misfortune to lament.
His combination finishing was a highlight in his Ally Pally campaign last year, and if his 100+ checkouts are as deadly this time around, he could end the dreams of more big-name opponents… maybe even the defending champion's.
Best: Quarter-final 2020
Opener: William O'Connor or Danny Lauby
After years of unabated success, culminating in his Premier League triumph at the end of 2019, this is the hardest period of Durrant's darts career and Glen will be desperate to break away from his current form. He continues to search for a way to get back to his best and if the Durrant of two years ago does walk out on the Ally Pally stage, then suddenly the rest of the field will take notice.
There is a cause for optimism in Glen's ability to raise his game for the biggest tournaments though. He was struggling this time last year, but still beat Diogo Portela and Danny Baggish, as well as pushing eventual quarter-finalist Dirk van Duijvenbode all the way to a deciding set. It is fair to say that things have deteriorated since then though, which is why the bookmakers have him at such astronomical odds.
Best: Last 16 2021
Opener: Lewy Williams or Toyokazu Shibata
Germany's No.1 is in a rather exclusive club of players to have featured in every single televised tournament in 2021, but he will perhaps be a little disappointed not to have achieved a little more. His run to the fourth round in last year's World Championship underlined his undoubted potential and "The German Giant" followed it with another good run at the UK Open. Since then, Gabriel has struggled to make his usual big impact on stage and the wait for his first title on the professional circuit goes on.
His big scoring and ability to group his signature darts so tightly together, makes Clemens a formidable opponent, but he now needs to take the next step in his career. A young, hungry Target star Lewy Williams could prove a difficult proposition in his opener, but fourth-favourite Jonny Clayton may await the winner. If Gabriel is to break through to another level in his career, the biggest stage of all is the perfect place to do it.
Pro Tour Qualifiers
The following players enter in the first round, having qualified via their efforts on the PDC Pro Tour - consisting of 30 Players Championship events and three European Tour tournaments in 2021.
Best: Champion 2007
Opener: Lourence Ilagan - winner players Rob Cross
The story of the legendary "Barney" and the biggest darts tournament in the world looked like it had ended already but there is now the possibility for that to change. Early exits to Darius Labanauskas and Darin Young in his final two years before retirement would have been a sad way for the tale to draw to a close, but the Dutchman's comeback offers a chance of redemption.
Winning a title in his first week of re-joining the tour illustrated how Raymond's talent has not waned - it is the consistency that has been lacking this year. He has worked hard on his approach, both mentally and physically, to try and compete at the highest level with some success. The Pro Tour performances have convinced many that he could have a big impact on the tournament, but wins on stage have been few and far between.
Entering in round one means that "Barney" must first beat the dangerous Philippines star Lourence Ilagan if he is to set-up an all-Target clash with a rejuvenated Rob Cross. That game would be must-see entertainment for darts fans, but it could also be a way for Raymond to finally put some of his more disappointing Ally Pally moments behind him for good.
Best: Champions 2011, 2012
Opener: Matt Campbell - winner plays Gary Anderson
Enigmatic, exciting, and enduringly-popular, there will be a huge number of fans cheering on "Jackpot" this Christmas, but how long they get to cheer him for is difficult to predict. In fact, predicting anything about Adrian Lewis in recent years has been tricky. Every time the four-time major winner produces a great run, or looks impressive, it seems to be followed by an equal number of unfortunate results.
Lewis currently sits outside the world's top 32, meaning he has to play in the first round against Matt Campbell - perhaps the most dangerous international qualifier in the draw. Not only that, but fellow two-time world champion Gary Anderson awaits the winner. While Anderson remains a huge name (and world number six), he has not convinced in recent months - but while the Scotsman has consistently done enough to remain in the world's top 10, ''Jackpot'' has slipped further down the rankings. The best place to address the slide is at Ally Pally, where the huge prize money on offer can catapult him back up to where he belongs.
Best: Last 32 (four times)
Opener: Nitin Kumar - winner plays Daryl Gurney
For a man who is one of the most eye-catching players in the sport, "Rapid" Ricky Evans has found it difficult to spark into life on stage in recent months. But a positive run at Ally Pally could just be what the fastest player on the planet needs in order for him to kick on in his career.
While Evans is still qualifying for big events like the World Championship and Players Championship Finals, he has just struggled to put together any promising runs. His last 2 trips to Ally Pally haven't been kind to him as on both occasions he has been whitewashed by Michael van Gerwen in round 2 despite playing very well.
Evans should have enough to overcome Indian qualifier Nitin Kumar, but will have to really step up his game against Daryl Gurney and potentially Target's Rob Cross or Raymond van Barneveld after that. It looks a tall order, but Ricky is a man capable of surprising anyone - just as he famously did Simon Whitock at Alexandra Palace six years ago.
Best: Last 96 2020, 2021
Opener: Royden Lam - winner plays Jonny Clayton
The phenomenally talented Irishman is making his third appearance at the PDC World Championship, despite not yet being out of his teens. "Dynamite" is yet to win a game at Ally Pally (having lost to Jeff Smith and Vincent van der Voort in his previous campaigns), but he is a very level-headed 19-year-old, who believes that success will come if he continues to trust in his abilities.
Keane showed a little of what he can do on the European Tour in Hungary, beating Dirk van Duijvenbode on his way to the final day of action and earning a debut at the European Championship in the process. Royden Lam is a player of vast experience and has been one of the most dangerous players on the Asian circuit for years, but he too has never won a first-round game at the PDC World Championship. Keane's world titles at youth level in the WDF and JDC were significant landmarks in his career, but winning on stage at Ally Pally would be another huge one. If he can overcome Lam, then the pressure is off against the highly-fancied Jonny Clayton; maybe Keane can relax, show off his immense scoring power and possibly shock one of the players tipped for the title.
Opener: Toyokazu Shibata - winner plays Gabriel Clemens
A debut at the World Championship is enough for some players to freeze, but you do not get the feeling that will be an issue for "The Prince of Wales" - another teenage product of Target's Elite1 system, and one who oozes confidence. From the moment Lewy earned his place on the tour at Q School, he has started to defeat big names. He has thrown an average in excess of 100 on seven different occasions on the Pro Tour this year, including one which very nearly reached 110.
Despite some high profile victories, Lewy did not quite do enough to qualify for the Players Championship Finals in Minehead and so his TV experience has been limited to just one game at the European Championship (a 6-4 defeat to Jose de Sousa). The 19-year-old will be the favourite to win his opening match, but he will need to guard against complacency. While the excellent Seigo Asada has not come through the Japanese qualifier this year, Japan has a wide pool of talent from which to draw - and Shibata could prove to be a tough opponent.
If Williams can get that first World Championship win under his belt, he will relish the chance to cause an upset against Target's German star Gabriel Clemens - and he may even have one eye on a meeting with fellow Welshman Jonny Clayton in round three.
The three remaining members of Team Target to compete at Alexandra Palace this year include two international qualifiers and one to have come through the PDC Development Tour. They all face Pro Tour qualifiers in their first round matches, looking to set-up clashes against the seeds in the last 64.
Best: Last 96 2021
Opener: William Borland - winner plays Ryan Searle
Nobody got closer to stopping Gerwyn Price in the knockout rounds of the Grand Slam this year than Bradley, who lost a feisty game 8-10 to the world number one in Wolverhampton. Simply getting out of a difficult group was an achievement in itself, but the former World Youth Champion earned a lot of fans with how much he troubled the eventual champion in the last 16. As well as that debut run at the Slam, "Bam Bam" finished top of the UK Development Tour this year, ensuring he goes to Ally Pally in no danger of losing his Tour Card.
All this amounts to steady progress in the 21-year old's career and a win at Alexandra Palace would seem the next logical step. Brooks was brilliant on debut last year, storming into a two-set lead, only to be pegged-back by Dirk van Duijvebode (who would go on to reach the quarter-finals). If he can start in a similar fashion, he stands a great chance of overcoming another continually-improving youngster, William Borland - but any hopes of a deep run have been made difficult by the draw. Ryan Searle is regarded by many as a dark horse for the tournament and with Danny Noppert, Damon Heta and world number two Peter Wright all in the same little section of the draw, Bradley will have to produce the best darts of his career to entertain dreams of a run to the quarter-finals.
Best: Last 96 2021
Opener: William O'Connor - winner plays Glen Durrant
The fast-throwing American has been in the UK for a few weeks in preparation for his second Alexandra Palace campaign, competing in the Modus League to hone his skills for the tournament. His debut last year very nearly beat Ryan Searle, missing match darts to cause a notable upset. Getting onto the PDC circuit remains the top priority for Danny, who has looked dangerous at Q School for the last few years without quite doing enough to earn himself a Tour Card.
Lauby's clash with Ireland's William O'Connor is one of the stand-out ties of the first-round with a match-up against Glen Durrant awaiting in round 2. It is a huge opportunity for both players, but it would not be too big a shock to see Lauby facing Michael Smith in the last 32. If that did happen, not only would it be a fantastically quick game between two fast throwers, Lauby could then go within touching distance of winning enough prize money to get on the PDC circuit without a return to Q School.
Best: Last 16 2001
Opener: Joe Murnan - winner plays Nathan Aspinall
When Paul Lim played in his first Lakeside World Championship, his first-round opponent Joe Munan was not even born; he had already played in 10 world championships before Nathan Aspinall arrived. At 67 years old, the legendary "Singapore Slinger" continues to astonish with his longevity, but he does have the quality to make an impact too - as we saw last year when he dumped out Luke Humphries. While he has written his name into darts history by being the first player to hit a nine-darter at a World Championship (in 1990), it might have been just as remarkable if he had not missed the double for another perfect leg at Alexandra Palace in 2019.
The bookmakers may make him the longest odds prospect of any of Target's players to lift the Sid Waddell Trophy, but every single game he plays is an occasion, and he will enjoy huge support from the crowd. Murnan will not relish having to deal with more than 3,000 fans chanting Lim's name, and they will only get louder if Paul can conjure up some of his old magic.
Good Luck #TeamTarget!