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THE world^s top darts players boarded the Magical Mystery Tour bus on Wednesday ahead of the start of the 2009 Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts.

Liverpool^s Echo Arena hosts the first of 14 successive league nights around the UK on Thursday as the sport^s top eight players, led by defending champion Phil "The Power" Taylor compete for the £125,000 Premier League title in the £400,000 event.

Taylorwill take on Raymond van Barneveld in a repeat of last month^s World Darts Championship final in their first Premier League outing this year, to be held in front of 8,000 fans in Liverpool.

"Liverpool^s a special venue and a great arena and it will be buzzing on Thursday," said Taylor.

"It^s a match I always look forward to and on Thursday it^s going to be one of those huge games.

"He^s hurt because he lost to me in the World Championship and then to James Wade in the quarter-finals of the Players Championship last weekend.

"He^ll have gone back to Holland to get himself ready and I^ve been doing the same. I won the Players Championship on Sunday but on Monday morning I was back on the practice board getting ready for this.

"It^s always a cracker with me and Barney and this will be no different!"

Taylor had been written off after losing three of his first four games last year - but went through the remainder of the tournament unbeaten to claim a fourth successive title.

"It^s been 12 months now and I^ve more-or-less won everything," said Taylor.

"A year ago I thought my career might be over. The players were saying ^Phil^s had it^, and they were right.

"The Press were saying the same things and even my own family were asking what was happening.

"It was weird. People were writing me off and the players wanted to draw me. But they don^t want me now!"

Van Barneveld has never defeated Taylor in the Premier League, although he has previously had wins over the Stoke great in nearby Bolton at the UK Open and also in the 2007 World Championship final.

"Phil had his revenge over me for the World Championship last month and maybe this is my time to get my own back on him," said the Dutchman.

"I love the Premier League, it^s a huge tournament and this year I^m determined to finally get the title.

"It would be a brilliant start for me in that if I can defeat Phil on Thursday."

The meeting of Taylor and van Barneveld will be the last of four clashes at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.

Three-time World Champion John Part takes on 2008 Premier League runner-up James Wade in the tournament^s opening fixture, while Terry Jenkins faces Premier League debutant Jelle Klaasen in the second match.

Klaasen, the young Dutchman nicknamed "The Matador" is looking to tame "The Bull" in his first outing since receiving a Wildcard for the event.

"If I play well I know I can make the semi-finals," said Klaasen.

"I^ll be trying to do that and if I make it then it^s great. If not, it^s only my first time and it^s going to be a great experience.

"People have told me that it^s amazing to play in front of so many people, totally different. But I think I can handle it and I^ll be fine."

Another debutant, world number six and World Championship semi-finalist Mervyn King, plays in the night^s third game, facing flamboyant star Wayne Mardle.

"I^ve worked hard for the last two years since joining the PDC to get into the top six and now I can^t wait to get up there," said King.

"It will be a new experience for me but it^s one I^m looking forward to. I believe I can win the tournament and the initial goal is to make the top four after 14 weeks - after that anything could happen!"

Mardle returned to the Premier League in 2008 and only missed out on the play-offs on leg difference, having finished bottom of the table in the first two years,

"I absolutely love the Premier League and I can^t wait to get on stage against Mervyn," said Mardle.

"In the first couple of years I struggled with the format - I struggled with losing a game and then going back the next week.

"Last year I had a typically bad start and put myself in a bit of bother but I never looked like finishing bottom after the sixth or seventh week.

"This year, I know exactly what I have to do and what to expect from the ups and downs of a league format. Now I know I can do it, I haven^t got any problems and losing a game isn^t the end of the world.

"I^ve proven to myself over the last year or so that I can combine entertaining the crowd with winning and that^s what I intend to do in the next 14 weeks."

Over 7,000 tickets have already been sold for the opening night of the tournament, with the remaining tickets available from the Echo Arena Box Office on 0844 8000 400.

The tournament will be screened live in the UK on Sky Sports and in HD from 7pm.

2009 Whyte & Mackay Premier League Darts

Week One – Echo Arena, Liverpool

James Wade v John Part

Jelle Klaasen v Terry Jenkins

Mervyn King v Wayne Mardle

Raymond van Barneveld v Phil Taylor

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