Next season's PartyPoker.com Premier League will feature Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson, Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump.
Matchroom Sport, the promoters, have released the following statement confirming the line up:
"Matchroom Sport can announce the seven players set to take part in this year’s PartyPoker.com Premier League which commences at Penrith Leisure Centre on Thursday 3rd of September and concludes with the play-offs at Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton-on-Sea on the weekend of the 28th and 29th November.
Leading the way is defending champion and World No.1 Ronnie O’Sullivan who will be attempting to lift this title for an astonishing sixth consecutive season and ninth time overall.
The Essex-based ‘Rocket’ has made this Sky Sports-televised event his own in recent times, beating Mark Selby 7-2 in last year’s final, John Higgins 7-4 in 2007 and Jimmy White 7-0 in ’06.
World Champion Higgins will be returning to Premier League action in an attempt to halt O’Sullivan’s dominance and he will be joined by UK Champion and World Championship runner-up Shaun Murphy.
Higgins was a winner of the Premier League ten years ago when he beat Jimmy White in Maidenhead and will be looking to have a good run after failing to qualify for the play-offs last year.
Murphy makes his second appearance in the event, having played in 2005, following a massive return to form over the past 12 months.
World No.8 Marco Fu is also a previous Premier League Champion when in a memorable weekend in May 2003, he toppled O’Sullivan 6-4 in the semi-finals before beating then World Champion Mark Williams 9-5 to land his first professional title.
The second overseas player in the line-up is Australia’s improving Neil Robertson, who bagged his third career ranking title last year when he won the inaugural Bahrain Snooker Championship.
Robertson had a torrid time of it on his only other Premier League outing in 2007 and will be looking to improve on that year’s showing.
While ‘legend’ is a term freely used in sport, it is hard to think of any other word when describing seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry.
The 40 year-old Scot has achieved everything there is to achieve in the game, several times over, and is still a very dangerous competitor. Hendry last won the League in 2004 but that will mean nothing when the action gets underway.
Finally, the joker in the pack is Bristol teenager Judd Trump. The up-and-coming World No.30 qualified for the Premier League by winning the ultra-competitive Championship League Snooker. Hailed as one of snooker’s greatest ever prospects, Trump now gets his chance to see what he can do among the game’s elite.
Commented Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn, “I think this is very exciting line-up with a diverse selection of top players competing.
“Of course, Ronnie will always be the man to beat in this event, but I feel anyone of the others has a chance of winning this title come the end of November.
“Some of the players have struggled with the 25 second shot clock but coping with that has always been one of O’Sullivan’s many strengths.
“The standard is high and I am looking forward to 12 nights of top class snooker in September, October and November this year.”
Now entering its 24th season, the PartyPoker.com Premier League Snooker is the world’s only major snooker tournament played to a league format. The field consists of seven of the very best players in the world and each player plays the others once over the best of six frames, making a total of 21 matches.
There are two points available for a win and a point for a 3 – 3 draw and following the round robin section of play, the top four players moved forward to the big money play-offs in December.
The total prize fund is in excess of £200,000, and the money for the round-robin section will be dished out on a ‘frames won’ basis with £1,000 awarded for each frame. In addition, there is a ‘Double Your Money’ bonus for a break of 100 or over of another £1,000.
Successful players carry forward their bonuses to the play-offs where the serious money is up for grabs. The £1,000 for a century bonus stays and the champion receives £30,000, the runner-up takes home an additional £15,000 and the beaten semi-finalists make an extra £5,000 each.
The semi-finals are the best of 11 frames and the final is over 13 frames.
The event will be broadcast for over 48 hours LIVE coverage on Sky Sports in the UK and Matchroom Sport Television will produce 24 x 2 hour highlight programmes syndicated globally."
The one player who can count himself unlucky is Mark Selby, who finished runner-up to O'Sullivan in the Premier League last year.
I expect Robertson got the nod over him because of Australian TV sales, although the Melbourne man did win a ranking event (Selby didn't) and got further than the Leicester Jester at the Crucible.
The other surprise is the exclusion of Ding Junhui, but Fu is now the highest ranked Asian and was the UK Championship runner-up last season.