"Magnificent Eight" Anticipating Big Kick-Off!

PHIL TAYLOR will begin his challenge to regain darting supremacy from Raymond van Barneveld when the 2007 Holsten Premier League Darts kicks off on Thursday night.

Taylor lost his Ladbrokes.com World Championship crown to the Dutchman a month ago, letting a 3-0 lead slip at the Circus Tavern before van Barneveld won 7-6 in a sudden death final leg.

The pair will meet twice in the next 14 weeks during the league phase of the £275,000 Holsten Premier League, with the first night taking place at the Plymouth Pavilions.

Taylor has yet to be defeated in the two years of the Premier League, and meets Roland Scholten on Thursday in a repeat of the 2006 final.

"I can't wait," said Taylor, 46. "It has been a long month wanting to get back into action - you can practice all you like but there's nothing like being on stage.

"I love the Premier League, it has been great for the game and the fans are always amazing, wherever we go in the country.

"Roland is in some good form and he showed his quality by reaching the final last year.

"I have been practicing hard, though, and I will be ready for him.

"I'm not taking anything for granted in the Premier League. There are eight quality players and it will be so hard over the next three months."

Van Barneveld opens his challenge against Premier League debutant Adrian Lewis - and is looking to erase the painful memory of his shock 11-3 loss to Scholten in last year's semi-final in Plymouth.

"The venue does not have happy memories, but Thursday is a new day," said the 39-year-old Dutchman.

"I was very disappointed to lose to Roland last year but I've had many wins since then.

"Adrian will be a big challenge, we played in the final of an event in Gibraltar recently and he is a quality player."

Lewis is one of three debutants in the expanded 2007 Holsten Premier League, which has increased to eight players.

The 22-year-old from Stoke hailed van Barneveld's World Championship comeback as "amazing", and added: "Ray is playing absolutely brilliantly.

"I can't fault him for what he's done, winning three straight tournaments including the World Championship in the past month or so.

"I'm really looking forward to it and think I can cause an upset there. It would be a bit of revenge for his win over me in Gibraltar!"

Double World Champion Dennis Priestley and World Grand Prix finalist Terry Jenkins will meet in their first appearances in the tournament.

"I am excited," said Priestley, the oldest man in the tournament at 56.

"For the past two years I've been an older professional looking in from the outside, but now I am in I'm feeling good about it."

The night's other game sees Colin Lloyd and Peter Manley, ranked third and fourth in the world respectively, clash.

"I think Peter's only had one win against me in the Premier League so far, but that means nothing," said Lloyd. "It's a tough opening game and I will be ready to tackle him come Thursday night.

"You want to get in there and start stamping a bit of authority straight away. You want to show people that you're on form, up for it and playing well."

Manley has been named as the 50/1 outsider for the tournament, but said: "A place in the semi-finals is obviously everybody's aim.

"In the first year I made the semis and last year I was almost in there until only a couple of games from the end," said Manley.

"Looking at the betting, I've been made the rank outsider with Dennis Priestley and sometimes that can be quite good because you aim to try and prove everyone wrong."

The tournament sees the eight players face each other twice in best-of-14-leg matches over the coming 14 weeks.

The top four players in the league table following this will progress to the play-offs, which are held on Monday 28 May at the Brighton Centre.

Holsten Premier League Darts
Night One

Raymond van Barneveld v Adrian Lewis
Dennis Priestley v Terry Jenkins
Peter Manley v Colin Lloyd
Phil Taylor v Roland Scholten

Tournament Odds - Outright with StanJamesUK.com
Phil Taylor - Evens
Raymond van Barneveld 5/4
Adrian Lewis 16/1
Colin Lloyd 18/1
Roland Scholten 28/1
Terry Jenkins 33/1
Dennis Priestley 40/1
Peter Manley 50/1
Odds correct at 2pm, 31 January 2007

Every night of the 2007 Holsten Premier League Darts will be screened live on Sky Sports, with coverage beginning at 7.30pm.