CODY HARRIS believes that New Zealand could become World Cup of Darts champions in the future as the country prepares to welcome the sport's top players to Hamilton in August.
Top Kiwi Harris partnered Haupai Puha to the quarter-finals of the World Cup last weekend in Hamburg, in what was the nation's best-ever result in the PDC tournament.
The Auckland duo overcame Lithuania and South Africa to win through to the last eight, where they were eventually defeated by Japan.
Having made his breakthrough in 2015, Harris was competing in his fourth successive World Cup but was partnered for the first time by domestic number one Puha.
The 33-year-old believes that the sport's progress, which is seeing new players emerge on the DartPlayers New Zealand circuit, will make the nation stronger at the top level - and even potentially following the All Blacks as World Cup winners!
"I'm very proud of myself and Haupai and I'm sure our country is very proud of us," said Harris. "We really enjoyed the weekend and I'm looking forward to coming back next year to do it again.
"We all play really good on the floor, like these top pros, and it's just having to do it at the right time up on stage and taking the opportunities.
"If we do, I really think New Zealand is good enough to be World Cup of Darts champions."
Harris has blazed a trail for the sport in New Zealand as the first full-time professional, and has based himself in Europe for the past 18 months to compete on the PDC circuit.
However, the continued growth of the DartPlayers New Zealand circuit and the incentive of places in the World Championship, World Cup and in World Series events like August's NZ Darts Masters in Hamilton means that darts in his homeland is flourishing.
"There's so many good players back home that the world hasn't even seen yet and they're all fighting to come over and give it a go," he said.
"Being on the other side of the world and having families, it's a hard decision to make even if you do qualify to come over. You have to be ready to pack everything and come over for a while and leave everything back home.
"I've played against Peter Wright when he was number two at the time and got that win under my belt, and these games make it reassuring that I am good enough.
"I'm going to carry on until I get to the top 32. We're still learning as we're going along and hoping for the best."
The 2018 Auckland Darts Masters had seen Mark McGrath defeat top PDC star Michael Smith - the first time a New Zealander had won in a World Series event.
Two other players suffered 6-5 losses, while the tournament has also given a platform to emerging stars like Puha and Tahuna Irwin in recent years.
This year sees the World Series move to Hamilton's Claudelands Arena on August 23-24, where Harris believes the New Zealanders can shine.
"The opportunities are there and everyone can see it," he said. "The New Zealand boys last year in the World Series had most of the [PDC] boys on the ropes and one got through.
"It's inspiring to those who want to play this sport and even being in the sport you meet other players and we're one big family.
"Hopefully the boys back home have been practising and getting themselves ready. I think we could do some real damage.
"If you get a couple of wins under your belt it becomes human nature - we think it's a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity the first time we give it a go, and then we end up going up again and it becomes the norm after a while."
The NZ Darts Masters, presented by Burger King & TAB, begins on Friday August 23 with the eight games in the first round, where the PDC stars take on the eight Oceanic representatives.
The tournament then concludes on Saturday August 24 with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
Tickets for the NZ Darts Masters are available now through www.ticketek.co.nz/darts.
2019 NZ Darts Masters, presented by Burger King & TAB
Claudelands Arena, Hamilton
Friday August 23 (1800 local time)
VIP Tickets $199.90
Table Tickets $94.90
Tiered Seat Tickets $64.90
Saturday August 24 (1800 local time)
Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals & Final
VIP Tickets $204.90
Table Tickets $99.90
Tiered Seat Tickets $69.90