Rock: Blackpool bow is a 'dream come true'

Josh Rock (PDC)

Josh Rock will fulfil another darting dream when he makes his highly-anticipated Betfred World Matchplay debut on Sunday afternoon in Blackpool.

Rock – one of two debutants in this year’s 32-player field – will play Australian number one Damon Heta in arguably one of the stand-out opening round ties at the Winter Gardens.

The Northern Irishman has taken the sport by storm since securing his place on the professional circuit in January 2022, breaking into the world’s top 32 and becoming World Youth Champion.

However, Sunday will represent another milestone moment in Rock’s career, as he prepares to make his debut at the iconic Empress Ballroom venue.


“It’s a dream come true,” admitted Rock, the leading ProTour Order of Merit qualifier in this year’s event.

“I watched the World Matchplay as a fan for years, so to have the opportunity to play on that stage is phenomenal.

“I remember I was about £9,000 away from qualifying last year. I had to win the final ProTour outright, but I knew I would be there this year, so it didn’t bother me.”

Rock underlined his credentials in a breakthrough 2022 campaign, producing astronomical averages on the ProTour and scooping his maiden senior PDC title at a Players Championship event last October.

Having also won five Development Tour titles, Rock then landed a nine-darter during a memorable tie against Michael van Gerwen at the Grand Slam of Darts, before winning the World Youth Championship title to cap off a stunning debut season.

Rock has maintained his upward trajectory in 2023, reaching his first European Tour final in April’s Austrian Darts Open, where he sensationally whitewashed Van Gerwen 7-0 in the semi-finals.

The 22-year-old was denied a maiden European Tour title by Jonny Clayton in a high-quality decider, and the Welshman also accounted for Rock in a Players Championship final in May.

“Jonny seems to be my bogey player at the minute – especially when it comes to finals,” quipped Rock, who previously succumbed to Clayton in the last 16 of the World Darts Championship in December.

“He beat me in Austria and then in a Players Championship final a few months ago, but I believe I’ve played better this year than I did last year. 

“Obviously I was new on the scene last year, but I’ve been more consistent in 2023. I’ve made more finals and semi-finals, and I think it’s down to experience.

“I’ve gained so much experience from my first year and now I know what I have to do [to win], so that is why I believe my game is a lot stronger.”

The winner of Rock and Heta’s tussle could take on reigning champion Van Gerwen in Wednesday’s second round, with the Dutchman pitted against Brendan Dolan in his first round tie on Sunday evening.

Van Gerwen is the only multiple World Matchplay champion in this year’s field, and he warmed up for his title defence with a magnificent triumph at last weekend’s Poland Darts Masters.

The 34-year-old averaged 110, 104 and 113 to prevail on Finals Day in the Polish capital, although Rock is unfazed about the prospect of playing Van Gerwen in his first Winter Gardens campaign.

“It doesn’t bother me,” added Rock, who is bidding to become the youngest player to win a match on this iconic stage since Van Gerwen tasted victory as a 19-year-old prodigy back in 2008.

“I don’t think Michael likes playing me. It’s a bit like Phil Taylor v Michael van Gerwen from years ago. This is the new rivalry now.

“I know Michael has beaten me a few times, but it’s not often that you beat someone like him 7-0.

“Obviously I have to get past Damon first though, because Damon is playing really well.

“It will be an interesting game because it’s 3-3 between us, so somebody is going to go 4-3 up, and hopefully that’s me!”

Listen to the full exclusive interview with Josh in the latest edition of The Darts Show Podcast - available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

2023 Betfred World Matchplay
Sunday July 16
Afternoon Session (1300 BST)
4x First Round

Danny Noppert v Martin Schindler
Dirk van Duijvenbode v Kim Huybrechts
Damon Heta v Josh Rock
James Wade v Chris Dobey

Evening Session (1930 BST)
4x First Round

Nathan Aspinall v Krzysztof Ratajski
Luke Humphries v Jose de Sousa
Michael van Gerwen v Brendan Dolan
Michael Smith v Steve Beaton