Premier League Snooker 2009: Season Preview

It’s back, snooker’s second biggest invitational event gets underway this Thursday as Ronnie O’Sullivan goes for what would be an unprecedented sixth consecutive victory in the 2009 Premier League…

The Event

For those not so familiar with the event, the Matchroom Premier League is now one of snooker’s longest running tournaments and although carrying slightly reduced levels of prize money this season, remains one of the most popular events on the calendar.

Staged on most Thursdays between now and the end of November (see calendar below), the first ten events will see the league’s initial group stage played to a conclusion before the top four players at the end of it play off for the trophy during the final weekend.

The most notable feature of the league however is the fact that since 2005 there has been a 25 second shot clock in force, a quirk that undoubtedly takes some time to get used to and has played into the hands of Ronnie O’Sullivan, winner of every tournament staged using the system.


The tournament will be again be televised in the UK by SkySports, continuing their long association with the competition.

If anyone has information on where it will be broadcast overseas, please let me know and I will add it to this page.

The Players

And who else to start with but the eight times Premier League champion and world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan who quite rightly will enter the tournament as the hot favourite once again.

This is obviously a tournament that Ronnie enjoys and despite the odd indifferent performance in the league phase (he has not actually topped that since 2006 surprisingly), he always manages to up his game during the final weekend. Last season given the brilliant form of Mark Selby during his debut season it looked as if we might have a really close final in prospect, but when Ronnie raced into a 5-0 lead there was only going to be one winner.

He clearly revels in the fact that the tournament is a series of one-off events, with no waiting around in hotels between matches and with the shot clock in place, will certainly take some beating. This season could be interesting as there are some players in the draw who he has struggled to beat in the past, but even so it is hard to look past him given his record in the event.

So where to begin when arguing the case of the remaining six players? There or thereabouts will surely be reigning world champion John Higgins who will be back in again in the Premier League for the third successive season. Arguably the most complete snooker player in the game at the moment, I do not need to tell you all how good he is here but how will he fare in this competition?

Although he reached the final back in 2007, John performed poorly in the competition last year taking just three points and is a player who I have never been too convinced by when playing under the 25 second rule. Having had two previous runs in the competition he cannot say that the format is new to him, but while he is not a slow player it clearly does not suit his style of play as much as O’Sullivan.

Still, if he can play like he did in the World Championship last season then I would expect him to be there or thereabouts in the league this season, but would at the same time be slightly surprised to see him winning the competition. Controversial!

Moving on, back in the tournament for only the second time is the man who he beat back in May at the Crucible, Shaun Murphy who will be hoping to improve on his maiden Premier League campaign back in 2005. To remind you, back then he headed into his final match with Ronnie O’Sullivan needing to win just two of the six frames played and having taken the opener looked a certainty. From there however it all went wrong and Ronnie took the next five to complete a  5-1 win and send Shaun crashing out of the tournament and Steve Davis through to the semi-finals in his place.

That was four years ago and now he is back again for another attempt. Following a tough start to 2008/9, Shaun finished up with the UK title, a World Championship final and a string of other good results which helped ensure that he will be back in the Premier League again. Having gained a significant amount of big match experience since that debut season in 2005, Shaun should now be much better prepared for the competition and with his attacking style, I expect him to perform well.

I could write almost exactly the same for Neil Robertson, another attacking player who like Shaun experienced a torrid debut season in the competition back in 2007 in which he won no matches and finished bottom of the table. Neil has also recovered from a poor run of form a year ago and now with another world ranking event title under his belt, as well as that run to the semi-finals at the Crucible, should do well in the Premier League.

Like Higgins he has notched up a couple of big wins over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the past so if he can start well and gain some confidence, he could be a real contender.

On that note, another interesting player to watch in the competition could be world number eight Marco Fu who will be involved for the first time since the spring 2005 tournament. Back then he actually topped the group table before going down 5-0 to Mark Williams in the semi-finals.

No stranger to the big occasion and with a near peerless record against O’Sullivan, if he can readjust to the shot clock and frustrate Ronnie like he has before, could he be the man to end his long reign as champion? Possibly, though his trademark inconsistency is often a problem. He has won the event in the past though (albeit before the current format was introduced), and if as one of the most impressive players on the tour during the last couple of seasons, is capable of doing so again.

Our penultimate player is another former winner of the event, indeed Stephen Hendry has won the tournament on six separate occasions, the last time being in 2004. He will be looking to improve on what was by his standards a disappointing campaign in 2008 which saw him just about scrape into the semi-finals at the expense of Ding Junhui before running into an unstoppable Mark Selby who shut him out completely with three century breaks.

Generally Stephen’s performances in the event have been strong under the shot clock, reaching three semi-finals and one final though in those knock-out matches he has managed to win just six frames in total. Given the quality of the opposition in this year’s tournament he will not find it easy by any means but if he can get off to a good start then I think he has every chance of at least making the play-offs at the Potters Leisure Resort.

Finally we come to the real dark horse in the competition, Judd Trump who gained his place following his victory in the Championship League earlier on this year, a win made all the more impressive by the fact that he was the lowest ranked player involved.

A hugely talented player, Judd has not had enough big-match experience during his career so far but this will change now as he prepares to play in front of sell-out crowds every other Thursday. How well he will perform I am not so sure, personally I feel that he might struggle early on when taking into account both the standard and the atmosphere, but I also did not expect Mark Selby to settle in so well last season and look how wrong I was there!

For Judd though this kind of experience is just what he needs and I think it could well be the making of him, win or lose…

The Calendar

September 2009

3 – Premier League 1 – Penrith Leisure Centre, Cumbria
17 – Premier League 2 – Great Malvern, Worcestershire
24 – Premier League 3 – Southampton Guildhall

October 2009

1 – Premier League 4 – Charter Hall, Colchester, Essex
15 – Premier League 5 – Aberdeen Exhibition Centre
22 – Premier League 6 – Grimsby Auditorium, Lincs
29 – Premier League 7 – Preston Guild Hall, Lancashire

November 2009

5 – Premier League 8 – Riverside LC, Exeter, Devon
12 – Premier League 9 – Weston Super Mare, Somerset
19 – Premier League 10 – Llandudno, Wales
28 – Premier League SF – Hopton on Sea, Nortfolk
29 – Premier League F – Hopton on Sea, Norfolk