Haupai Puha and big-stage debutant Jonny Tata delighted the Hamilton crowd at the 2023 NZ Darts Masters with victories over Dimitri Van den Bergh and Peter Wright as the World Series of Darts event began on Friday.
New Zealand's Puha claimed his first World Series victory on home soil with a superb display of finishing to see off Belgian star Van den Bergh 6-2.
Lower Hutt-based truck driver Tata, meanwhile, enjoyed a dream World Series debut as he overcame two-time World Champion Wright 6-3 in their first round tie.
The duo will now compete for the NZ Darts Masters title in Saturday's final stages after delighting the GLOBOX Arena crowd with their success.
Tata had only confirmed his place in a first televised event when he came through last month's DPNZ Qualifiers in Christchurch, but has made an immediate impression on the big stage.
Wright led 2-1 in the early stages, but saw Tata level with a 14-darter and also finish a confident 62 to break in a run of four straight legs to move 5-2 up.
A miss at tops for victory allowed Wright to keep his hopes alive briefly with double 11, but Tata was first to a finish in the next and he took out 84 to seal the biggest result of his career.
"It's an unreal feeling, I can't really explain it," said the 30-year-old. "It's something I thought would never happen, and it did!
"Even to compete against Peter Wright I was happy, so coming out with the win on top is something magical. I'm absolutely thrilled.
"It's something I was so excited for and I suppose the nerves weren't there as much as I thought they would have been. Once I got onto stage, everything fell into place."
Tata will now meet another former World Champion, Rob Cross, in the quarter-finals on Saturday after the English star overcame veteran Kiwi Warren Parry 6-3.
Puha, meanwhile, enjoyed his first World Series of Darts win in New Zealand after overcoming Van den Bergh with a five-leg burst.
Van den Bergh led 2-1 in the early stages, finishing 86 in the opener before hitting six perfect darts in an 11-darter in leg three.
Puha, though, finished 110, 112 and 126 in three of the next four legs as he surged into a 5-2 lead, before completing a huge win on double one in the next.
"It's awesome," said Puha. "To do what I did in front of the New Zealand crowd is an honour and a privilege.
"I'm very happy - it's one of the best moments of my career. I treated it like it was just another game in the garage.
"The practice wasn't too good but getting up there I was hitting what I wanted to hit - I did the checkouts that I needed to do."
Puha's quarter-final opponent will be Nathan Aspinall, after the new World Matchplay champion saw off Kiwi youngster Kayden Milne 6-2.
Milne had defeated Fallon Sherrock in Hamilton last year on his big-stage debut, and raised hopes of another upset when he took the opener against Aspinall.
The world number five, though, found his range to win four straight legs and then landed an 11-darter to move 5-1 up, and though Milne briefly kept his hopes alive, a 68 checkout saw Aspinall progress.
Reigning champion Gerwyn Price made an impressive start to his title defence at the GLOBOX Arena with a 6-1 win over Simon Whitlock.
The Australian took the game's opening leg, but clinical checkouts of 92 and 149 edged Price ahead as he sparked a run of six straight legs to close out victory.
"I felt comfortable up there," said Price. "The crowd were supporting me right from the beginning, which is good, and they were brilliant.
"I'm here to do a job and hopefully win this tournament."
Price's quarter-final opponent will be Danny Noppert, who proved too strong for DPNZ number one Ben Robb with one of the most impressive performances of the opening night in Hamilton.
The Dutch star finished 118 in the opening leg and took out 120 during a clinical four-leg burst which moved him 5-1 up.
A missed match dart allowed Robb to hit back, but the New Zealander was unable to continue his revival as Noppert progressed.
World Champion Michael Smith was taken all the way to a deciding leg by World Series debutant Darren Penhall before edging into the last eight with a narrow 6-5 triumph.
DPA number one Penhall took the game's opening two legs before a 120 checkout for a 12-darter sparked Smith into life as he took the next three.
The pair traded the next five legs as the tie moved to a sudden-death leg, where Smith fired in his fourth 180 before posting double eight to complete a hard-fought win.
He now meets Australia's Damon Heta, who ended the hopes of New Zealand's Darren Herewini to book a quarter-final spot, taking a 3-0 lead before wrapping up a 6-2 win with a 110 checkout.
Saturday August 5 will see the decisive quarter-finals, semi-finals and final take place at the GLOBOX Arena in one bumper session. A limited number of tickets are still available through Ticketek.
The NZ Darts Masters will be broadcast live on Sky Sport in New Zealand and Fox Sports in Australia, through DAZN in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and on PDCTV in all other global territories.
UK fans can watch live through PDCTV - subscription options include the PDCTV Summer Pass.
Coverage on ITV4 in the UK will be from 1900 BST on Friday and from 1700 BST on Saturday.
Following this weekend's NZ Darts Masters, the sport's stars will cross the Tasman Sea to Australia for the second leg of the World Series' Oceanic double-header.
The PalmerBet NSW Darts Masters will be held at the WIN Entertainment Centre in Wollongong on August 11-12. Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.
2023 NZ Darts Masters
GLOBOX Arena, Hamilton
Friday August 4
Rob Cross 6-3 Warren Parry
Damon Heta 6-2 Darren Herewini
Haupai Puha 6-2 Dimitri Van den Bergh
Jonny Tata 6-3 Peter Wright
Nathan Aspinall 6-2 Kayden Milne
Gerwyn Price 6-1 Simon Whitlock
Michael Smith 6-5 Darren Penhall
Danny Noppert 6-2 Ben Robb
Saturday August 5 (1900 local time)
Gerwyn Price v Danny Noppert
Jonny Tata v Rob Cross
Michael Smith v Damon Heta
Haupai Puha v Nathan Aspinall
Best of 11 legs
Price/Noppert v Tata/Cross
Smith/Heta v Puha/Aspinall
Best of 13 legs
Best of 15 legs