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PDC - Darts: MVG back firing on all cylinders

Shortly after hitting the top of the Premier League, Michael van Gerwen heads the field as the stars arrive in Germany for the second European Tour event of the year.

A field of 45 players has gathered at Halle 39 in Hildesheim for the German Darts Championship, where Devon Petersen is the defending champion, but it's the likes of Van Gerwen (7/2), Peter Wright and Jonny Clayton who punters will be latching on to rather than the out-of-form South African.

One notable absentee is Gerwyn Price, the recently-deposed world No.1, who missed Thursday night's Premier League action in Brighton after sustaining a hand injury and has decided to sit out this weekend as well.

Brendan Dolan and Ted Evetts also did not travel, meaning a field of 45 toes the oche rather than the expected 48, with three men - Mensur Suljovic, Petersen and Jamie Hughes - getting byes straight into round two.

While they can put their feet up, there are 13 other first-round matches on Friday before the 16 seeds enter the fray on Saturday.

Mike looking Mighty impressive

Van Gerwen is seeded six in Hildesheim, but that is but a number. The Dutchman, after a slow-burn 18 months featuring more misses than hits, looks to have some of his old swagger back, as he prepares to face the winner of the first-round tie between Jose Justicia and George Killington.

Justicia, incidentally, hit a nine-darter and beat Darren Webster en route to round three of the UK Open last weekend, so looks a fair bet at 4/6 to see off Killington.

Van Gerwen, of course, had a mixed UK Open, beating Gary Anderson tidily enough before succumbing to Damon Heta in round five, hammered 10-4.

Yet before that he had produced fireworks in Exeter winning Night Four of the Premier League and on Thursday evening in Brighton went back-to-back in that competition, beating James Wade, Joe Cullen and Michael Smith to claim the glory.

He averaged 103.9 against Smith and has now averaged 99 or more in seven of his last nine TV matches, and hasn't dropped below 93.

Smith hoping to avoid another final flop

While Van Gerwen is finally showing flashes of his old self, he knows who his chief dangers are.

The absence of Price - who won the first European Tour event in Riese two weekends back - is good news for all concerned, but 4/1 Wright, the new world No.1, is still producing giddy numbers himself.

Clayton is 6/1 but not playing as well as he was a month ago and the same is true of Joe Cullen, who is available at 12/1.

One Premier League star who is definitely starting to pick up is Michael Smith, 9/1 in Germany and looking like a winner. Except, of course, that winning is the tricky bit with Bully Boy.

Smith's Premier League campaign couldn’t have had a worse start with three straight first-round defeats, before he finally got on the board by making the semis on Night Four in Exeter.

And that was the kickstart he needed. Three days later Smith had made it to the UK Open final - a 10-7 quarter-final win over Price the pick of his results in Minehead - before he lost to Danny Noppert in a match he should have won.

It was the seventh major final defeat for a man who quite simply cannot cross the line.

On Thursday he took that good form to Brighton in the Premier League, dropping just three legs in a pair of dismantlings of Anderson and Clayton, but then lost to Van Gerwen in the final - almost inevitably.

However, these are the kind of low-key events which play to Smith's strengths and it would be a surprise if he's not a serious contender this weekend.

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Drive to profit with a pair of Vans

While Van Gerwen will have his usual army of supporters for this, there are clearly a raft of other contenders such is the breadth of talent in the PDC.

Two more names to pop in the frame are Dimitri van den Bergh and Dirk van Duijvenbode.

Belgian Van den Bergh, a 14/1 pop, produced one of the performances of the UK Open with his phenomenal 10-2 destruction of Daryl Gurney in round four, averaging 103.

It didn't do him much good - he went out in the next round, pipped by Ryan Searle - but his game looks in seriously good order since he also has a Pro Tour final to his name this year.

As for Van Duijvenbode, he has had points to prove after going flat in 2021 but he is streaky. At the UK Open he averaged almost 100 beating Willie Borland, almost 106 thrashing Martin Schindler and then lost his head after falling behind against Noppert.

But the good outweighed the bad and, at 66/1, he has to be of some interest.

Take Niko to Spring-a surprise

There are a few potential upsets in round one, among them talented young German Niko Springer to take care of Darius Labanauskas.

The 21-year-old from Mainz looked a really bright prospect qualifying for the first European Tour event in Riese and took his chance in the main draw, when he beat both Jermaine Wattimena and Brendan Dolan before losing with a 94-plus average to Wright.

He'll have the crowd on his side and, while Lucky D is a stubborn opponent, he doesn't have too many gears and the youngster is definitely a fair price at 7/4.

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