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THE 2012 McCoy^s Premier League Darts season begins on Thursday night as the world^s top two players, Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, prepare to clash as the £450,000 tournament kicks off at the Manchester Arena.

Stoke pair Taylor and Lewis, respectively the 15-time World Champion and current World Champion, will meet in the highest profile of four games to be played on the first of 14 league nights in the 2012 Premier League Darts.

The duo teamed up last weekend to win the World Cup of Darts for England, but will put aside their friendship when they take to the oche in front of 8,000 fans in Manchester.

"I^m very determined now to win the McCoy^s Premier League Darts title back and I^ll be very focused on Thursday," said Taylor, who has won five previous Premier Leagues.

"Playing with Adrian last weekend and winning the World Cup was great, but that means nothing on Thursday night when we get on stage because I^ve only got one goal in mind - winning the two points.

"The World Cup was brilliant match practice and I^m happy with my form so it should be a fantastic game with Adrian."

Lewis took an 8-2 victory when the pair met in the opening week of the 2011 Premier League Darts season, and also knocked out Taylor 8-3 in the semi-finals before losing to Gary Anderson in the decider.

"They were special moments to defeat Phil but it was disappointing in the end that I didn^t go on to win the tournament," said Lewis, who retained his World Championship title just over a month ago.

"I^m feeling confident coming into this year^s McCoy^s Premier League Darts and my form^s good. Winning the World Cup with Phil shows that I^m playing well, although we had a few rocky moments along the way, but I^m working hard to make sure I^m at my best this season."

Reigning champion Anderson begins his title defence against debutant Kevin Painter, who was handed a Wildcard to compete in the McCoy^s Premier League Darts for the first time after winning his first major title at December^s Players Championship.

"Last year^s Premier League was a great memory for me," said Anderson. "I had a fantastic first season and to win the title capped it off.

"I know it^s going to be hard to defend it because this field of players is really strong, but I^m looking forward to it. Kevin^s going to be a tough player to play first on Thursday but I^ll give it my best shot."

Painter has been eagerly awaiting his Premier League debut since being announced, alongside World Championship finalist Andy Hamilton, as a Wildcard at the start of January.

"Everyone wants to be in the Premier League and it^s something I think I will thrive on," said Painter, 44. "The big stage and big atmosphere will suit me and hopefully I can do it justice and play well.

"The other lads are the ones who are under pressure because they^ve been in it for years and they know what it^s all about.

"The likes of Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, James Wade and Gary Anderson will be the favourites to be in the top four, but it would be great to make the Play-Offs."

Painter added: "I^ve played Gary quite a lot of times in the last four years and the last time we played on TV I won in the Players Championship, and went on to win the tournament.

"My opening two games are Gary and Phil Taylor so they couldn^t be much harder than that. I just want to enjoy it, play as well as I can and see where that takes me."

Five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld begins his challenge against Australian Simon Whitlock, and the Dutchman is determined to finally reach the Premier League final in 2012 after suffering his fifth semi-final defeat in six season against Anderson last May.

"I^ve had five semi-finals but I^m aiming for the final this year," he said. "I don^t know why I keep losing in the semi-finals, but you have to remember that you^re playing against the greatest players in the world.

"I must admit that in the last couple of years I was going to tournaments thinking ^am I still good enough to lift trophies?^ but that came from the time that I wasn^t practising enough.

"This year I^m working hard again and I want to prove a lot of people wrong - I^m not finished."

Australian star Whitlock suffered a broken ankle last October, but has returned in brilliant form by reaching the World Championship semi-finals and the World Cup of Darts final.

"I^m really happy with my form at the moment," said Whitlock. "I^m scoring well and finishing really well, so it^s a boost for me coming into the Premier League.

"I was disappointed not to reach the Play-Offs last year so that^s my first target."

The night^s opening game sees 2009 champion James Wade take on the tournament^s other debutant Andy Hamilton, who won through to the World Championship final in January before losing to Stoke rival Lewis.

"I^ve been practising hard and I can^t wait to get on the stage and in front of the crowds," said Hamilton. "I^ll take some shocks and I know that I^ll make sure whoever I play has a tough game.

"I^m looking forward to it and I^m not scared of anyone. I^ve proved that I^m good enough to be there and I^ve beaten them all before.

"I^m going to concentrate on getting into the top four first and whatever happens after that is a bonus - I could even win it!"

Wade was the winner of Premier League Darts in 2009, and although he missed out on the Play-Offs by a point last season bounced back to win his second UK Open title and reach the World Championship semi-finals.

"It^s a new season and I^m looking forward to it," said Wade. "I^ve done well in the Premier League before and enjoy the tournament, and I badly want to win back this title.

"I was disappointed to lose in the World Championship semi-finals, but that was just a blip and this is a great chance to get the Premier League off to a winning start."

The McCoy^s Premier League Darts will be played over 14 league nights from February-May in the UK & Ireland^s top arenas, with the players facing each other twice in best of 14 leg matches.

The top four players from the final league table will then proceed to compete for the £150,000 first prize in the Play-Offs at The O2 in London on Thursday May 17.

Over 70,000 tickets have already been sold for the McCoy^s Premier League Darts, with the tournament set to visit Ireland for the first time on March 22 when the players compete at The O2 in Dublin.

The event also travels to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff as well as ten venues across England, giving fans throughout the UK and Ireland the chance to see the sport^s best players in the flesh.

"The McCoy^s Premier League Darts has grown in stature every year since being introduced in 2005 and I believe that we have assembled the strongest ever field this season," said PDC Chairman Barry Hearn.

"We welcome Kevin Painter and Andy Hamilton to make their debuts in 2012, and they fully deserve their places for their achievements last year, notably Kevin^s Players Championship win and Andy^s brilliant run to the World Championship final.

"The World Cup showed that Raymond van Barneveld and Simon Whitlock are back to their best, and the achievements in winning majors over the past 12 months by Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, James Wade and Gary Anderson makes them the obvious players to beat.

"It promises to be 15 weeks packed full of drama, excitement and high-quality darts. Bring it on!"

Over 8,000 tickets have already been sold for Thursday^s opening McCoy^s Premier League Darts event at the Manchester Arena, but the remaining tickets can be purchased on 0844 847 8000, via or at the venue^s Box Office on the night.

The McCoy^s Premier League Darts will be screened in its entirety by Sky Sports, with their High Definition coverage of every league night accompanied by a 3D broadcast of Thursday^s opening night.

Phil Taylor is the 13/8 pre-tournament favourite with William Hill, the official betting partner of the McCoy^s Premier League Darts, with Adrian Lewis 4/1 and Gary Anderson 9/2 to retain his title.

James Wade and Simon Whitlock are 7/1, with Raymond van Barneveld 20/1 to win his first Premier League title and newcomers Kevin Painter and Andy Hamilton rated as 25/1 chances to lift the trophy in May.

McCoy^s Premier League Darts

Week One - Manchester Arena

Thursday February 9
Andy Hamilton v James Wade
Simon Whitlock v Raymond van Barneveld
Kevin Painter v Gary Anderson
Adrian Lewis v Phil Taylor

Live on Sky Sports HD1 and Sky 3D from 7pm

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