12 Nov, 2021

Team Target heads to the Grand Slam of Darts this year with high hopes and five players in the hunt for the title, as the event returns to its regular home of Wolverhampton.

Recently-crowned European Champion Rob Cross has exploded back into form, while the legendary Raymond van Barneveld makes his first appearance at the Slam in three years, looking to recapture the title he won in 2012. Stephen Bunting and Gabriel Clemens have both shown flashes of brilliance over the course of the year, whilst young star Bradley Brooks looks to make his debut at the event.

The draw has kept all five of our stars away from each other in the group phase, which takes place at Aldersley Leisure Village from 13-21 November, with £550,000 in ranking money available and a £125,000 top prize. Below, we run through the prospects of each of our players who will be competing over the 9-day event.

Rob Cross

Ranking: 11

Qualified via: European Championship win

Best: 2017 quarter-final

Group: C (Wade, Krcmar, Williams)

What a difference a few weeks has made for "Voltage", now a four-time major champion and looking completely rejuvenated following two years of hard graft. The victory at the European Championship in October was quickly followed by another title on the Pro Tour, and all of a sudden the huge averages have started to return with regularity. Cross was in danger of falling out of the world's top 20 prior to his recapturing of the European title in Austria but has now assured himself a spot in the top 16 for the foreseeable future.

His confidence is high, his throwing action is looking great, and "Voltage" can be considered amongst the most likely winners of the title. However, Group C looks particularly unpredictable - featuring the mercurial Jim Williams, an out-of-form (but always dangerous) James Wade, and the enormously talented Boris Krcmar who is fighting to save his tour card. Things are looking up for Rob, and he is the bookies' favourite to top the group, but he cannot afford to take progression to the last 16 for granted.

Stephen Bunting

Ranking: 15

Qualified via: Tourcard holder qualifier

Best: 2014 quarter-final

Group: D (Dobey, Joyce, Rowby-John Rodriguez)

Such has been the form of "The Bullet", it was no surprise to see him come through the qualifier to earn a fourth appearance at the Grand Slam. His debut run in 2014 remains his best, followed by back to back group stage exits in 2017-18. 2021 however, is proving to be one of the most fruitful years of Bunting's career, including his first Pro Tour title for half a decade and semi-final runs at both the World Championship and the recent Grand Prix.

The withdrawal of world number five Dimitri van den Bergh due to a positive Covid test may marginally improve his chances of progressing from the group, but Chris Dobey is a supremely dangerous and in-form replacement. Ryan Joyce is ranked outside the world's top 32 and Austrian World Cup star Rowby-John Rodriguez does not currently hold a tour card, so Stephen will fancy his chances of reaching the last 16 - and in what looks like a favourable quarter of the draw, he might well be setting his sights on a third major ranking semi-final of the year.

Gabriel Clemens

Ranking: 22

Qualified via: Tourcard holder qualifier

Best: 2019 last 16

Group: E (Wright, De Decker, Sherrock)

"The German Giant" was once again denied a maiden PDC title in the final of a Players Championship last month, but gained revenge on Callan Rydz by beating him in the decisive match of the Grand Slam qualifier.

Clemens has threatened to break through to the next level in his darts career for some time but has consistently been thwarted in tight matches. While he is now a regular presence in TV events (having qualified for everything in 2021), he is yet to reach a first quarter-final in a major event. Gabriel has progressed from his group before, but he must arrest a slump in big-stage form that includes first round exits at the Matchplay, Grand Prix, European Championship and World Series Finals this year.

The group in which he is placed does offer some hope - with an out of form Peter Wright, surprise package Mike de Decker, and debutant Fallon Sherrock. However, they will all see Group E as a huge opportunity to reach the last 16 themselves.

It seems inevitable that things will come together for the German number one sooner or later, and he will enjoy a deep run in a TV event, but it is difficult to predict with any certainty that this week in Wolverhampton will be when things change for him.

Raymond van Barneveld

Ranking: 79

Qualified via: Tourcard holder qualifier

Best: 2012 champion

Group: H (Anderson, Smith, Davis)

This will be only the second major tournament that "Barney" has played since his comeback from retirement, with his first ending in swift disappointment in his opening tie at the UK Open. Indeed, the Grand Slam offers the legendary five-time world champion a chance to win his first televised game of darts since November 2019.

His headline-grabbing return to the PDC tour in January saw him claim a Pro Tour title within days of resuming his darts career. The Dutchman took out an impressive trio of names to qualify for the event for the first time in three years, beating Alan Soutar, Danny Noppert and Brendan Dolan, but the bookmakers believe he will struggle to get out of his group. World Youth Championship finalist Joe Davis looks like a must-win game, and then Raymond must look to beat either Gary Anderson or Michael Smith. It is Smith whom he faces first, and if he can make a winning start to his campaign, then van Barneveld could start to recapture the belief that helped him produce his famous win at the tournament nine years ago.

Bradley Brooks

Ranking: 80

Qualified via: World Youth Championship win

Best: Debut

Group: B (Clayton, King, Rusty-Jake Rodriguez)

Bradley had already assured himself a place at the Grand Slam of Darts by virtue of his World Youth Championship victory last year, but such was his success on the Development Tour this year, that he would have got there via that route regardless. In fact, his ability to hold things together on the final of the youth circuit also made sure of his spot at the World Championship and guaranteed he will enjoy at least another year on the professional circuit. The tangible rewards were fantastic, but his performances under pressure are an even greater sign that he could enjoy success in his debut campaign in Wolverhampton.

Group B looks dangerous, with rising star Rusty-Jake Rodriguez, the veteran Mervyn King and the most successful player in darts this year in Jonny Clayton.

"Bam Bam" is a product of Target's Elite1 training and mentoring system, and it is the last 12 months where he has really started to deliver on his undoubted potential. If he can replicate some of his recent form, and maintain the composure he showed on the Development Tour, then Bradley has a chance of progressing from the group. If he does so, that alone should be considered a huge success - because not even Clayton himself will relish a last 16 clash with whoever progresses from Group A.

Good Luck #TeamTarget!

Event photos © Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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