News

Preston’s Players Championship Grand Final

The fourth annual Players Championship Grand Final takes place in Preston this week, with snooker returning to our screens on Tuesday following a rare week off.

Guild HallThis is the first season that the tournament will be staged outside of Ireland after a year in Dublin and two subsequently successful outings in Galway.

Originally, the plan was to send the event out to Thailand to help revitalise interest in the sport akin to when James Wattana popularised it two decades ago.

However, that decision was always met with a certain degree of trepidation and the ongoing political unrest in the country forced World Snooker to abort and find a safer destination.

Cue the return of the Guild Hall after a whole nine-year absence since it last staged a professional snooker event.

While the Guild Hall will almost certainly attract bigger crowds than what would have been the case in Thailand – take the dismal 2011 World Cup as a reference – another immediate benefit of the competition being held in England is that it almost guarantees the inclusion of Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The ‘Rocket’ has made it clear that he has little interest in travelling to the other side of the world at this stage of his career and therefore his withdrawal would have been likely had the Grand Finals remained in South East Asia.

Of course, the 38 year-old’s presence significantly adds to any event and he’ll undoubtedly begin it as the overwhelming favourite despite the short best-of-seven frames format.

World and Masters champion O’Sullivan takes on Scott Donaldson in the opening round that includes a total of 32 players who qualified via the European and Asian Tour Order of Merits.

There are several interesting ties in the opening exchanges but the one that immediately stands out is the clash between 2011 champion Shaun Murphy and world no.1 Neil Robertson – runner-up on the last two occasions.

England’s Murphy hadn’t won a main ranking event since his victory in Dublin three years ago until the recent Haikou World Open in China, and that followed up his triumph in the Gdynia Open last month, highlighting his impressive return to form.

32 year-old Robertson has been in consistent form all season, collecting a brace of ranking event titles including the UK Championship and also knocking in an incredible 92 century breaks to date.

As ever, in such a quick dash to the winning post, the start for either player will be crucial but one feels that Murphy is just riding a high wave of confidence at the moment and will be a tough player to break down.

Elsewhere, defending champion Ding Junhui, whose remarkable run of success arguably started with victory here this time last year, takes on former quarter-finalist Ben Woollaston.

China’s Ding is joined by four of his compatriots, including 16 year-old Lu Haotian who challenges the great Mark Williams, and amateur Ju Reti.

31 year-old Ju is rewarded for being the first amateur player to win a professional tournament carrying ranking points with a clash with Judd Trump.

Hong Kong’s Marco Fu is also involved, arguably the player of the season outside of the big three of Ronnie, Robbo and Ding.

His opponent would lay claim to that accolade as well, though, as Gary Wilson threatens to break into the top 64 in the world rankings in his first year back on the circuit.

Mark Allen, who is seeded first having won back-to-back European Tour events but has struggled overall during a difficult campaign, faces Welshman Jamie Jones while Ireland is represented by the ever-reliable Fergal O’Brien following his run to the final in Poland.

This is the third last event of the season and the last that counts towards the seedings for the season-ending World Championship in Sheffield.

This will greatly influence the outcome of the draw when it is eventually made.

But away from that, there is a top prize of £100,000 on offer – the fourth most for a ranking event this season – so expect the competition to be as fierce and entertaining as ever.

The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.

2 replies »

  1. please can you write to Ronnie o Sullivan for a photo and autograph write to adam heriot 33 Winifred road cobholm great Yarmouth Norfolk nr310bl