Neil Robertson became the first Australian in 16 years to reach a ranking tournament final by beating Bearsden’s Alan McManus 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen today.

Robertson, the world no.13, clinched victory by doubling the black the full length of the table at the end of the eighth frame and faces Stoke’s Jamie Cope, a 6-3 winner over Mark King, in Sunday’s best of 17 frames final.

“It means a lot to reach the final but it would mean a lot more to win the tournament. That’s why I’m here,” said the 24 year-old Melbourne left-hander.

McManus won the first two frames but the turning point came in the fourth when Robertson got the two snookers he needed on the blue before clearing up to force a re-spotted black, which he potted to level at 2-2.

A break of 79 gave Robertson the fifth, McManus failed to pot a ball in the next and he went in-off the yellow in the seventh, from which Robertson cleared to the pink to lead 5-2 before his grandstand finish a frame later.

“That’s probably the first frame I’ve ever won when I’ve needed two snookers on the blue. It was a massive steal,” said Robertson of his Houdini act in the fourth.

Robertson only took to the green baize game because it was so hot on one Melbourne day that he ventured into an air conditioned snooker club to cool down.

He turned professional in 2000 but found it hard being so far from home at such a young age. It was difficult to adjust to the realities of the pro game, where talented newcomers, hardened veterans and useful journeymen made life in the qualifiers a frustrating affair.

Settling in Cambridge with some other Australian players eventually allayed the homesickness and Robertson’s game, based around his fearless long potting, began to reap dividends.

Not unusually for an Australian sports star, Robertson does not lack for confidence but does not exude the arrogant streak that turned so many in the game off his compatriot Quinten Hann, who was recently banned for eight years after being found guilty of the intention to fix a match in the 2005 China Open.

Neither does Robertson’s attacking, exciting approach bear any relation to the dour, methodical style of Eddie Charlton, Australia ’s most successful player. Charlton, who died in November 2004, was once as high as third in the rankings and three times the World Championship runner-up but never won a ranking title.

The last Australian to appear in a ranking tournament final was Warren King, beaten 10-6 by Steve James in the 1990 Mercantile Classic. Snooker down under does not have a high profile but Robertson is hoping to change this.

“If I win the tournament I’ve no doubt snooker will start getting in the papers back home,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of support but need to win a title to get the press coverage.”

McManus, 35, was appearing in his 26th ranking event semi-final but is still searching for a third title. “I’m a little bit disappointed but things just didn’t go my way and you have to accept that,” he said.

Cope, 21, compiled a 147 maximum break earlier in the tournament and grew in confidence as the week progressed to reach the first major final of his short career. He trailed King 2-1 but produced an inspired spell of scoring as breaks of 96, 58, 74 and 60 carried him into a 5-2 lead before he clinched victory two frames later.

It was the 15th match Cope had played in the Grand Prix following the controversial round robin format employed in the Prestatyn qualifiers and early stages in Aberdeen.

“I felt really settled in the balls in every frame. I just needed a chance to score and I did,” he said.


Be honest. Nobody successfully predicted that Alan McManus, Neil Robertson, Mark King and Jamie Cope would contest the semi-finals of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

Robertson beat title favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan while King beat defending champion John Higgins for only the second time in 13 meetings.

Cope, an outstanding young prospect, edged Joe Perry and McManus won a dreadful encounter with Ian McCulloch.

Of the four, only McManus has previously won a ranking title – two in fact – but has not lifted any silverware in ten years.

Many snooker watchers would prefer the final to feature two big names duelling it out – as happened when O’Sullivan faced Ding Jun Hui in the Northern Ireland trophy two months ago – but it doesn’t hurt to have a tournament fought for by more unfamiliar names.


Jimmy White faces a testing month which could ultimately have a huge bearing on his professional future.

The 44 year-old will be in Prestatyn on Thursday for the Malta Cup qualifiers where he’ll have to beat Andrew Higginson, Jamie Jones or Shokat Ali to face David Gray in the final qualifying round.

Failure to advance to the final stages in Portomaso would put even more pressure on White for the UK Championship qualifiers, which start on November 14.

White will have to beat one of Mark Joyce, Jeff Cundy or Robin Hull to reach York, where only victories over Nigel Bond and Neil Robertson would see him make the televised phase.

These matches are vitally important for White. He will be 51st in the provisional rankings when the list is issued after the Royal London Watches Grand Prix and will be off the circuit altogether if he slips lower than 64th by the end of the season.

At least the Whirlwind doesn’t have to go to the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield for the Masters qualifiers, which start on November 4. He has, as expected, been given a wildcard for Wembley.



Neil Robertson’s 5-1 defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan this afternoon was an accomplished, highly ruthless performance from one of snooker’s most promising prospects.

The 24 year-old can clearly do it on the big stage and will surely win a major tournament sooner rather than later.

He missed an easy black in the third frame but was otherwise flawless.

He said: “I’m very happy with the way I played. I’ve scored heavier before but to play that way against someone like Ronnie is harder to do so this is my best performance so far.

“Even after Ronnie cleared up to win the third frame I kept my composure because I knew I was playing well and that I was creating chances for myself.

“I knew before the match that I was one of the few players who could beat him when he’s playing well. When I get in, if I’m concentrating and my positional play is good, I’ll definitely score.”

Typically for an Australian, Robertson is supremely confident.

I suggested to him he had landed a pre-Ashes blow. “I won 5-1 but I think we’ll win 5-0. At least Ronnie’s got one of the board for the English guys,” was his reply.


Snooker days can often be long. The nights tend to be longer.

Last night felt especially long as Alan McManus duelled with Mark Selby and Stephen Lee took on Mark King.

McManus won 5-1 but the match still didn’t finish until gone 10.30pm.

The pressroom is an entertaining place to be but often suffers a lull as people tire of the same old stories and jokes. Luckily, John Higgins leant me his Sopranos DVDs, which passed a couple of hours until the snooker was finally over.

The taxi driver who took Phil Yates and myself back to our hotel casually revealed that his previous profession was as lion tamer in a circus.

“I was bitten a couple of times,” he said, as if it were nothing much to worry about.

It made me realise sitting in a snooker pressroom may not always be thrill a minute but at least it isn’t dangerous.



Why do snooker journalists love Ronnie O'Sullivan?

His press conference today should explain. Whatever anyone thinks of Ronnie, two things are indisputable: he's a genius at the table and often irresistably entertaining off it.

He's in a good mood here and we got the feeling he could have talked for days.

Here are the edited highlights of what he said:

“My potting hasn’t been that great for a few years and I had to hide behind playing a bit of safety.

“But that wasn’t ever going to work for me. I won tournaments but I came away thinking it had all been a waste of time because I didn’t enjoy it.

“OK, I’d got a trophy but I’m not in it for trophies and money, I’m in it for the love. The beauty of the game means more to me.

“I’ve been working for that. The characters in snooker can be intense and you can catch it off them. It’s like a lurgy that goes round if you hang about with them too much.

“You get cloned. You become them without knowing it. I have to be careful that it doesn’t happen because I don’t want to be like that.

“I want to be Billy the Kid. I love the rawness of this game and that’s how I want to play.”

A year ago, O’Sullivan said he was so bored with snooker that he’d rather be at home gardening than take on John Higgins in the Grand Prix final at Preston.

But he rediscovered his enthusiasm after travelling to America in the summer to play on a new big money pool circuit.

He said: “What I learned from the pool was how to enjoy playing and I’ve taken that philosophy to my snooker.

“You can get intense about things and copy what other people do. I’ve gone back to my roots and experimenting a bit.

“I won’t stop being aggressive. For me, to be great at your sport you need to be like that.

“If you look at all the greats – Steve Davis, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Phil Taylor – they’re all aggressive. They know how to play a defensive game and so do I but I don’t intend on having many matches like that.

“When I was 16 playing qualifiers at Blackpool I was going through them all with effortless ease and that’s how I need to play.

“I can do that. I can win without feeling like I’ve had to work for it. That’s how I like to play.”


It's hard to believe that Alan McManus, so consistent throughoutb his career, is now out of the elite top 16, let alone down to 52nd in the provisional rankings.

If he continues to struggle the Glaswegian could even be off the tour at the end of the season.

But McManus himself insists he isn't having sleepless nights about his provisional standing.

He told me: “The rankings don’t really worry me. I’ve always been a bit of a believer that it’s only numbers. The snooker balls don’t know the number you are just as a horse doesn’t know what price it’s running at.

“I suppose you don’t want a decent ranking position and it’s better from a money point of view but then there’s a lot of pressure on the top players.

“Being where I am isn’t that much of a problem. If you can get some matches under your belt it’s not that difficult to climb back up.

“Being further down the rankings you have to play more matches, which is a good thing.

“What’s terrible is that we have to go two or three months without playing. You end up stop-starting and get rusty when you want to be competitive all the time.”



Had the BBC had a camera in the pressroom today the resultant footage would have resembled a farce of Brian Rix proportions.

Professor Stephen Hawking would have struggled to work out the various machinations of the round robin groups.

We huddled round computers studying the group tables tossing out different scenarios with little real clue what was going on.

In short, there are too many variables in this system and it makes it far too confusing for people to follow.

An example: we were told that Stephen Maguire, who played his last match on Monday, had been eliminated regardless of what happened in the rest of the group.

Then, the officials changed their mind and told us he would be out if Joe Perry won a frame against Ding Jun Hui.

We were puzzled by this and asked for a re-check. The result: Maguire was out after all.

The TV commentators struggled to keep up, as did the viewers no doubt, and quite what the paying public made of it all I’ve no idea. Presumably, they didn’t understand the varying importance of frames won here and there and what they meant in terms of group standings. How could they?

So, in a sense, almost every match here meant nothing from an audience point of view. It was merely a succession of players playing each other, with the results unclear until the very end.

Mark King had booked his flight home, assuming he was out. In fact, because Shaun Murphy lost to Ali Carter, King qualified alongside Ryan Day from group B on frame difference ahead of Murphy.

Steve Davis, a professional since 1978, has seen more tournament snooker than any other player, is better qualified than most to comment on all of this.

This is what he said: “I think it’s a bit messy. Not to say it isn’t fun for the players and spectators but it’s messy in that certain players have produced good standards and not got through and other players have sneaked through.

“Players may welcome the change but would prefer a best of nine match so they know where they stand.

“If it wasn’t a ranking event it would be absolutely fantastic. But because we don’t have that many ranking events players are very aware of their position and what the points mean.

“It’s a long-winded way to get down to 16 players. It’s a pity it couldn’t have been the Masters instead.

“There are players going home who have played very well. There are all these anomalies and waiting on other results. If it continues there will be bad feeling somewhere down the line for whatever reason, maybe a player not trying as hard as he should or the possibility of two players seeing who they would play in the next round if they won and not wanting to win.

“It’s been good fun to play in but the trouble is it’s a ranking event. If we had 12 a year it wouldn’t be so bad but there are limited chances for players and some of them will be going home cursing whoever made the change.”


Jamie Cope recorded the 54th maximum break in snooker history and only the fourth in Scotland in his match last night against Michael Holt.

The match was on an outside table but TV cameras managed to get there in time to watch the last black go in.

He said: “This has got to be the best moment of my career so far, it felt so good to see that black go in.

“I decided to go for it from the start. When I was on 64 there was a red in baulk, I came round the table and dropped on the black. Apart from that I was never out of position.

“I held myself together really well. I had a good chance in China but missed the last red on 112. Tonight I didn’t feel like missing.

“I try to make maximums a lot in practice so that helps. Now I have to have a think about what to spend the money on.”

Cope is a prodigiously talented break-builder with over 100 maximums to his name in practice. He became the first player to record a 155 – snooker’s highest possible break – in a witnessed practice match last year.

He was on for his first pro 147 in last season’s China Open but broke down on 112.

Maximums may seem ten-a-penny due to their frequency these days. Indeed, there were only eight recorded in the 1980s but 26 in the 1990s. So far in this decade there have been 20.

However, it is still a significant achievement and Cope’s £24,000 – providing nobody equals his feat – is well deserved.

In 2004, Jamie Burnett recorded the first professional 148. How long will it be before a player makes more than 147 in a TV match?



If there have been a few moans and groans about the new round robin format at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, one player you won’t hear complaining is Ronnie O’Sullivan.

With three wins from three under his belt, Ronnie is sitting pretty at the top of group C and all in favour of the new format.

He believes it is fast, exciting and just what’s required to give the sport a shot in the arm on television.

It will be interesting to see whether TV viewing figures have gone up or whether the same people are tuning in as did last year when it was a knockout event.

If they have, the organisers can claim it as a success, despite the various complaints.


John Higgins has been named Highland Spring Player of the Year for season 2005/6 by the Snooker Writers' Association.

The 31 year old won two major tournaments during the campaign – the GrandPrix and Saga Masters – and finished runner up in two others.

Higgins is currently defending his title in front of his home fans at theRoyal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen.Graeme Dott wins the Highland Spring Achievement of the Year award, for his magnificent success in the 888.com World Championship.

Dott, who had never previously won a major tournament, defeated Peter Ebdon 18-14 to lift the game’s ultimate prize after an epic final at the CrucibleTheatre in Sheffield.

The Wheels In Motion/Paul Hunter Newcomer of the Year accolade goes to Michael White, who won the World Grand Prix, the game’s leading amateur event, in his home country of Wales at the age of just 14.

This award was re-named last week in honour of the late Paul Hunter, who won it himself in 1998.

Richard Balani’s contribution to the game is recognised with the Highland Spring Special Award. Balani’s efforts have made Malta one of the leading venues for major tournament snooker for many years.



Mark Williams has pulled out of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix because of a broken wrist.

Ridiculously, this means that Stuart Bingham has been eliminated - even though he beat Williams on Satuday.

This is because, according to the rules, a match involving any player who withdraws is declared null and void.

So Bingham and Robin Hull - who beat the Welshman 3-1 tonight - have effectively been penalised through no fault of their own.

This is what Williams said: “My wrist is really hurting. I can’t play properly and I didn’t want to make it worse so I’ve decided to pull out and rest it before the next tournament.

“Every time I played a shot with a bit of pace I got a lot of pain. I’ve never pulled out of a tournament before and it’s not very nice.

“Even if I’d won my decision would have been the same. Maybe I should never have come here but I wanted to give it a go. But it’s no good.”


Oh dear.

Stephen Hendry was so appalled by the table on which he lost 3-2 to Andy Hicks today that he launched into an angry tirade against playing conditions.

Hendry was clearly annoyed by a number of bad bounces off cushions and suspect contacts.

Here's what he said: “It was the worst table I’ve ever played on in my life. I’ll get disciplined for saying it but we’ve been complaining about this for two years and nothing has ever changed.

“You can’t play any positional shot or any safety shot. They’re verging on unplayable.

“The players keep being asked to say what's wrong with the tables but they still don’t get any better.

“They are very difficult to play snooker on. I turned pro at 16 and never remember ever having a bad bounce off a cushion.

“We’re not supposed to say anything because I’ll get pulled up for disciplinary action now, but something has to be done.

“It’s diabolical. It’s verging on a farce out there. It looks like sour grapes because I’ve lost but the tables ruin the enjoyment for the players."


The attendances here have been truly dreadful – far too many empty seats considering all the top players in action.

Why is this?

Aberdeen is one of the more remote parts of Scotland but the crowds for the six ranking events staged at the Exhibition and Conference Centre from 1997 to 2002 were excellent. It was even known for 10am sessions to be virtually sold out.

Next month's Betfred Premier League night at the venue is also sold out.

The new round robin format was supposed to engender additional excitement and interest but it is yet to catch on.

As far as I can see World Snooker have promoted the event, in partnership with one of the local newspapers, pretty well, but still the people are yet to turn out in large numbers.

Everyone hopes the crowds increase as the week goes on because it looks bad on the television to see snooker’s top stars plying their trade in front of largely empty banks of seats.



I'm pleased that World Snooker have chosen to honour Paul Hunter with a new scholarship award for gifted youngsters but very surprised they didn't also make the gesture of renaming the Masters trophy after him - something many top players had called for.


After three sessions of play, the first day’s action here at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix has been fast and one player in particular has been furious.

Graeme Dott, no fan of the new round robin format before lay began, is even less enamoured with it now after suffering a 3-0 defeat to ding Jun Hui, who out-pointed the reigning 888.com world champion 296-2.

“I wish I could play all of my matches today so I could go home tomorrow,” Dott said. “I said to people before the tournament that the matches were too short but it was actually worse than I thought it would be. It’s horrible. You’ll get freaky results and I don’t see why that would be good viewing.”

Dott’s defeat to Ding was not unexpected given that the Chinese teenager had won the last ranking event, the Northern Ireland Trophy in Belfast.

Mark Williams was another top player to lose 3-0, beaten by Stuart Bingham. Shaun Murphy, the Crucible champion last year, was whitewashed by Ryan Day.

This format is certainly controversial but it’s far too early to say whether it is a good thing or not.



The Royal London Watches Grand Prix gets underway at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre tomorrow some nine weeks after the last ranking event, the Northern Ireland Trophy, ended.

Therefore, there isn't much form to go on, apart from the Betfred Premier League Sky has been showing on Thursday nights.

Predicting a winner in Aberdeen will be even tougher given the new round robin format which means 120 best of five frame matches over the first four days.

Opinion among the players is divided over the new system. Here are two opposing views:

John Higgins: “I’m for it if it promotes the game. If it goes well I’ll applaud it, but if it doesn’t work then we’ll have to look at something else.

“I suppose the good thing is that you’re guaranteed five matches and if you lose your first one there’s still time to rectify things, but they are much shorter than usual so it’ll be tough.”

Graeme Dott: “I’m not in favour of the new format. The matches are too short and it’s a bit of a lottery. It’s like a penalty shootout. I’m sure it’ll be exciting for the fans and probably to play in, but I’d prefer to have a normal tournament.

“It doesn’t help that I’m in the toughest group, but in every group it’s any two players who could go through because the matches are so short that anyone can beat anyone.”

There are 30 matches tomorrow on six tables.

Can it work?


Will it work?

We'll have to wait and see.



There has never been a snooker occasion as sad as today's gathering at Leeds Parish Church where the sport said goodbye to Paul Hunter, who died of cancer on October 9.

A host of well known names attended the funeral: Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty, Shaun Murphy, Graeme Dott, Peter Ebdon, Graeme Dott, Joe Johnson, John Virgo, Anthony Hamilton, Barry Hawkins, Neil Robertson, Tony Knowles and John Parrott among them.

Matthew Stevens, a friend of Paul's since childhood, was one of the pall bearers.

Paul's father, Alan, was in tears as he told of how his son has said to him that he had been "dealt a bad card."

Anthony Roberts, Paul's cousin, spoke eloquently of the 27 year-old three-times Masters champion and Lindsey, Paul's widow, read a specially written poem.

Sir Rodney Walker gave an excellent speech on behalf of World Snooker but even he couldn't get through it without breaking down.

It was a very sad occasion but good to see so many people - some 1,200 - paying their respects.



You won't meet many nicer snooker players than John Higgins, who begins the defence of his Royal London Watches Grand Prix title in Aberdeen on Saturday.

Despite being one of the most successful players in snooker history, he remains modest about his achievements and is sensibly always looking to the future, rather than resting on his laurels.

I spoke to him today and this is what he said:

“The first match I ever saw live was Jimmy White v Alex Higgins in the 1985 Scottish Masters. The atmosphere was amazing. The place was completely packed. Jimmy thrashed Alex 5-0 in about 40 minutes and then they came out to do four exhibition frames because it was over so quick.

“I was in awe of them. It’s funny, because I’ve never seen myself as being like them, but I’ve been doing quite a few exhibitions recently and have realised how well thought of snooker players are.

“Lots of people come up to get autographs and you realise that you are a role model to a lot of the kids.

“I have two boys of my own so it’s nice to know that there are young kids looking up to me.

“I don’t think of myself as a big star or spend much time going back over tournaments I’ve won.

“You’re too much in the bubble of going to tournaments and playing matches and there isn’t much time to reflect.

“I guess I have done in quieter moments on my own, but I’ve always been the type of player who is looking to the next tournament, even if I’ve won the last one.

“I’ve got all my trophies at home but they’re not on show. They’re on a lounge room that we very rarely go in, maybe only if we’ve got people staying over.

“Some players win one tournament and it goes to their head a bit. Then, they don’t win another one. I’m not really like that.”



The following was announced today:

"The Snooker Writers' Association has joined the tributes to Paul Hunter, by re-naming its Newcomer of the Year award in his honour.

"Paul won the award in 1998, and it is currently sponsored by his management company Wheels In Motion.

"The re-naming reflects the huge respect and affection which Paul enjoyed among those who cover the game.

"He provided many great stories on and off the table over the years, and carried out his media responsibilities with grace and good humour in both victory and defeat.

"Paul lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 27. The first Wheels In Motion Paul Hunter Newcomer of the Year will be announced, together with the other SWA award winners for this year, during next week's Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen."



The following matches in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix will be played on the two television tables at the Aberdeen this weekend. Good to see Judd Trump and Issara Kachaiwong getting their TV debuts.

Coverage is live on the BBC, plus their interactive service and Eurosport.

John Higgins v James Wattana
Shaun Murphy v Ryan Day
Graeme Dott v Ding Jun Hui
Mark Williams v Stuart Bingham
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Steve Davis
Ken Doherty v Nigel Bond
Stephen Hendry v Mark Selby
Stephen Maguire v Mark Allen
Shaun Murphy v Mark King
Graeme Dott v Joe Perry

Ken Doherty v Paul S. Davison
Neil Robertson v Judd Trump
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Michael Holt
John Higgins v Issara Kachaiwong
Mark Williams v Stephen Lee
Stephen Hendry v Andy Hicks
John Higgins v Dominc Dale
Ken Doherty v Judd Trump
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Jamie Cope
Mark Williams v Robin Hull



You can view BBC Grandstand's tribute to Paul Hunter - who would have been 28 today - on the BBC website here (click on video) http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/snooker/default.stm



Tony Drago will play all three of his Malta Cup qualifying matches in his home country.

Drago, down to 52nd in the world rankings, is required to come into each event in the last 80 stage.

But he is Malta's top sportsman and to have a snooker tournament there without him is unthinkable.

It would have been too much to cross fingers and hope he came through the Prestatyn qualifiers.

It means the Malta Cup, staged at the magnificent Hilton Conference Centre in Portomaso, will now start a day earlier than planned, on January 28.

Drago would have to play every day for eight days if he reached the final. John Parrott and Michael Holt are guaranteed to be Malta-bound as they are seeded to play Drago in the last 64 and last 48 respectively.

You can view the qualifying draw on Global Snooker Centre here: http://www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Results/res06-7/06-7Malta.htm


World Snooker have announced that, for the first time, there will be three wildcards for the Wembley Masters.

Quite rightly, Ding Jun Hui has been given a place, having won three world ranking events in the last 18 months.

Jimmy White, the darling of Wembley, is also given one. The third is going to the winner of the qualifying event.

This means that, for the first time, there are 19 players in the tournament.

Ding and White were the two obvious choices for wildcards, which have a dual function: to boost audience interest and reward achievement.

Otherwise, the Masters has always been a tournament for the elite and should remain so.

The only reason there was ever a qualifying event in the past was because the previous sponsors - B&H - understandably wanted to boost name penetration prior to the event.

Of course, the same could be said of SAGA, who have encouragingly signed on for three more years, but there is an established way players qualify for the Masters: they do well enough to become part of the top 16.

Last year, of the 78 players eligible to take part in the qualifying tournament, only 48 did. The widely held view is that it is only being staged to appease the voting membership, with the AGM just around the corner.

Whoever wins will, of course, have every right to enjoy their time at Wembley - with the tournament now being held at the Arena after the Conference Centre was earmarked for demolition as part of the stadium redevelopment - but are unlikely to do much for ticket sales.



I thought you'd be interested in what people have been saying about Paul:

“I’m absolutely devastated by the news. He’s got a young family and he had a fantastic future in front of him.

“It’s everyone’s worst nightmare and puts everything into perspective.

“On the circuit, no-one had a bad word to say about Paul. He was like Jimmy White in that respect. He loved snooker, he loved life and he’ll be sadly missed by everyone.

“Paul was just a really nice guy and a great player. When he first emerged on the scene, he had the ability you always thought would eventually result in him becoming a world champion.

“Sadly he never got the chance to fulfil that goal. But his record, especially in the Masters at Wembley, spoke for itself.

“Before he was taken ill, Paul was in the top four in the world and maybe even had his best days to come.

“Every player on the circuit was pulling for Paul to come through because he was just a genuinely nice guy who never fell out with anyone. He just wanted to play the game.

“My thoughts are with his wife, daughter and family on what is a sad day and one I've never experienced during my time in the game.”

“It’s so, so sad. I’m totally gutted. It’s beyond human comprehension. I can’t get my head around it.“He was a tiger on the snooker table, but off it you couldn’t have met a nicer fellow.

“He was a bit of a Jack the lad but he was never nasty to anybody, arrogant or rude like these pop stars and some sports people.

“He was a really, really nice kid. He had a lovely family. You couldn’t intimidate him. Nothing could put him off. As soon as he got beaten, or he won, he was back to Paul Hunter and that's a very hard quality to have.

“I can’t tell you how special he was. He was a credit to life. He will be in my heart for the rest of my life. It’s a very, very sad day for Snooker and sport in general.”

“The times I spent with Paul, we always had a good laugh. He was just a lovely man. He’ll be sorely missed by everyone.”

“He was fantastic. The Masters is a massive tournament and he won it three times. I think it was just a matter of when he won the world title, not if.”

“It’s a great loss to the sport but more importantly than that it's a great loss to his family.

“Paul played the game with a smile on his face. He was a bright and bubbly character and I never heard him complain. He was always such a happy person. We’re all going to miss him.”

“He was one of the nicest young men you could meet. He was totally devoted to his family and my heart goes out to them

“He was a terrific professional and one of the main characters on the circuit. He’ll be missed by everybody.”

“I met Paul for the first time on the junior circuit. In fact, he won the first ever junior tournament I played in, which was in Leicester," he said.

“He began playing before me, so he had established himself as the best. Paul had a reason to be cocky and arrogant but he was never like that. He was just a normal lad which makes this all the more difficult.

“I’ve lost a friend. He was such a great lad, he had everything. When he was diagnosed with cancer it was a massive shock.

“He was a player like he was a person. He was honest, down-to-earth and a fighter. Some of his performances in matches, when he came back from deficits, showed that. I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I’m devastated for his family. It’s a massive shock.

“His talent was frightening. We didn’t get to see it all. I’ve never seen anyone from the age of nine, when I first met him, who was that good at that age. He blew me away when I first saw him.

“He’ll be missed by everybody. He wasn’t big headed at all. He was just a normal lad.”

“Deep down I think we all thought he was going to beat the disease. He was one of the best-looking snooker players we ever had and had a heart like a lion.

“He lit up the stage when he played, was a very flamboyant player and there will be a big hole in everybody’s hearts for the next year or so.”

“Paul was a man who had everything going for him - an outstanding talent, good looks, fame, riches, charm and a beautiful wife.

“This shows us just how quickly life can change. It’s a bitter blow for snooker, but most importantly for his family, and our thoughts are with them.”

DAVID MANNING, Communications Manager, Travis Perkins
“I had the pleasure of working with Paul when we donated the UK Championship table to York RI Snooker Club after the event in 2004.

“He came with his wife Lindsey that day and it struck me just how approachable he was with everyone. He played a few games with the club’s top players... naturally he played them off the baize, but he did let them pot at least a couple of balls to save their complete embarrassment. A true gent, a great talent, sadly missed.”

MADELEINE HEGARTY, former teacher
“He came back nine years in a row. He always made time for us. He was never the celebrity, he was always the ex-pupil.

"It took a long time for him to start treating me as a friend rather than as his ex-teacher. Then a few years ago he gave me a big hug. He was just a lovely lad, a great example to the children.

“The children are all coming in at the moment saying 'Miss, did you see the news?' One little boy said to me 'I never thought he would die. I thought he would get better.'”

ANDY GEACH, the NET Patient Foundation
“Paul was an inspiration to us. We met him and his manager last year at the Pot Black tournament at the RAC club. He was adamant in wanting to help and to get things set up.

“He provided funds to build the website. Primarily it was his £14,000 which built the website and he was behind getting the charity set up.

“It was a great shame he could not be at the charity night. We did not realise it was going to take him so quickly. What he had was rare. What was rarer was that it was so aggressive.

“He was a great guy. He was there for us whenever we needed a celebrity figure to push us forward. He and his wife Lindsey were always there, ready to help. We will miss him greatly.”

KEVIN SINFIELD, Leeds Rhinos rugby league captain
“Paul was an iconic sporting figure for the city of Leeds across the world through his achievements in his sport.

“He achieved so much despite only being 27 and I am sure he would have gone on to be a true great in Snooker.

“It is a tragic loss of life and our thoughts are with his family at this time.”


The snooker world is today united in grief following the sad news from last night that Paul Hunter has died of cancer at the age of just 27.

Paul was the first snooker player I ever interviewed. It was at the 1998 Welsh Open that he would eventually win.

It's hard to believe, but back then he was shy and unsure of himself during interviews. Players aren't given media training and he didn't really know what he should say.

However, he soon matured into a first class professional on and off the table. He was unfailingly patient and polite in his dealings with the media.

His fellow players are deeply shocked. It will be an emotional atmosphere at the Grand Prix, which starts a week on Saturday.

Ken Doherty, who famously beat Paul 17-16 from 15-9 down in the 2003 Crucible semi-finals, today eloquently summed up the feelings of everyone in snooker.

He said: “It’s very sad for snooker and sport. We’ve lost a great character, a great player and a great friend.

“Everyone was dumbfounded when he was diagnosed with the disease last year. As he was someone so young we all thought that after chemo he’d come through it. I don’t think anyone can believe the news.

“Words can’t explain what his family and friends must be going through. They’re all in our thoughts and prayers.

“We called him the ‘Beckham of the Baize’ because he had the looks and he played up to that character.

“He was one of our characters and a fantastic player. He was a great champion but he was also very magnanimous in defeat.

“The last time I saw him was at the World Championship. He was so courageous. He’d been through the mill with chemotherapy but he just wanted to play.

“He missed snooker. He loved it so much and wanted to be around the snooker fraternity.

“He showed so much courage. Everyone was behind him.

“He had everything. He had the world at his feet and it’s just such a shame.”

There will be many other tributes and they will all be genuine.

Perhaps World Snooker could rename the Masters trophy after Paul - he did win it three times in four years.

There will be other ideas to remember him: perhaps a tournament in his honour, or the renaming of the Academy in Sheffield.

Such is the way he lit up the game, Paul Hunter simply cannot be forgotten.


PAUL HUNTER: 1978-2006

Paul Hunter, the three times Masters champion and one of the outstanding snooker players of the last decade, has died of cancer. He was just 27.

Hunter was diagnosed with dozens of neuro endocrine tumours of the inner lining of his stomach in March 2005. He fought the disease with bravery and good humour.

Remarkably, Hunter played in all but one tournament during the 2005/06 season, often in serious pain. He won only one match in all this time and fell from fifth in the rankings to 34th. In July, players voted to freeze his ranking at this position in the hope that he may be fit enough to return next season.

A prodigiously talented teenager, he enjoyed a successful junior career, winning the Pontin’s Star of the Future title among other trophies, before turning professional in 1995.

In his debut season, he reached the Welsh Open semi-finals in Newport while still only 17.

His first ranking title came at the 1998 Welsh Open when he was just 19. Hunter beat five members of the game’s top 16, including John Higgins 9-5 in the final, to secure the trophy.

He was shy and unassuming in interviews back then, often appearing akin to a rabbit caught in the headlights during press conferences.

Off table, he was not so reticent. Still a teenager, Hunter went through a phase of immaturity which included fines for a drunken streak at the qualifiers in Blackpool and a positive test for cannabis.

Success and its financial rewards, perhaps inevitably, went to his head and he spent two years in which carousing seemed to take precedence over practising. By his own admission he needed sorting out and Brandon Parker, a businessman from Preston who had previously managed Quinten Hann, agreed to look after him providing he put in the requisite effort.

By the time of his diagnosis, Hunter had won five major titles and joined the world’s top four following his association with Parker, who helped him believe in his own potential and make the necessary changes to his lifestyle to realise it.

Hunter’s career came to be defined by his performances at the Wembley Masters, where he won three extraordinary finals having been well behind on each occasion.

In 2001, he trailed Fergal O’Brien 6-2 after the first session but compiled four centuries in recovering to win 10-9. His revelation to the press afterwards that he had spent the interval with his girlfriend, Lindsey, in his hotel room where they “put plan B into operation” would cement his reputation as a tabloid favourite.

In fact, Hunter, in his cheerfully honest way, confided this information as an innocent aside, but it would follow him round his entire career.

A year later, he trailed Mark Williams 5-0 in their Wembley final but again came back to win 10-9. In 2004, he fought from 7-2 adrift to edge Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 and win his third Masters title in four years.

The Wembley Conference Centre, which is being demolished as part of the stadium redevelopment, had a capacity of more than 2,700 and the pressure in those three deciders must have been immense.

Through his three victories, Hunter proved his bottle on the big stage, but his biggest disappointment was his collapse from 15-9 ahead against Ken Doherty in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Championship.

Doherty won nine frames of the ten played in the final session at the Crucible to win 17-16. Hunter put a brave face on this but was privately shattered.

Given his ability, it is surprising he didn’t win more titles. He did capture the 2002 Welsh and British Opens and was one of the favourites for every tournament he entered, but snooker’s standards rose so sharply in the mid 90s through to the present day that titles have generally been shared between a handful of top players, of which Hunter was one.

Off the table, snooker could not have asked for a better ambassador. There was always something to say about Paul, with his colourful life and love of a good time.

He was good looking and had flowing blonde hair, which led him to wear an Alice band for a spell – entirely innocuous but different and therefore interesting for media and fans alike.

In his later years, he developed from shy teenager to confident adult. He always made himself available for interviews and undertook countless promotional engagements.

These continued even after he became aware of his illness. Hunter flew to the China Open in March 2005 having just discovered the nature of his condition, but this did not stop him spending over half an hour after one match signing autographs for excited spectators in the arena.

Outside the venue, he was mobbed by adoring fans and again made himself available for autographs and pictures. He later revealed that he spent one of these nights in China crying down the phone to Lindsey, the enormity of his illness hitting home.

At the Crucible a few weeks later, he received a standing ovation on his entrance. He tried his hardest for the next year but, with negligible feeling in his hands and feet, as well as severe pain in his side, his game had deteriorated.

Hunter’s one success in this period was a 9-8 victory over Jamie Burnett in the last 32 of last season’s UK Championship in York, in which he had needed a snooker on the pink.

In truth, he probably shouldn’t have played at all, but at least the tournaments gave him something to look forward to in between the bouts of chemotherapy.

Hunter never publicly complained about his condition and his cheerful demeanour won him many more friends and admirers.

Despite his illness, he still made time to talk to people. He was naturally friendly and exuded a genuine warmth when dealing with others.

There were hopes he had beaten the cancer during the latter half of 2005 but it returned and various treatments ultimately failed to keep it at bay.

Just last month, a charity night – Paul Hunter’s Big Night Out – was held to raise money for the NET Patient Foundation, set up to help fellow neuro endocrine tumour sufferers. Around £36,000 was raised but, sadly, Hunter could not attend after being admitted to hospital with dehydration. In his last days he was moved into a hospice.

It is a horrible irony that a young man who loved life so much should be afflicted in this way.

For Lindsey, whom he married in 2004, and his wider family, it must be a devastating time and everyone’s thoughts will be with them.

Paul Hunter will be remembered not just as a fine snooker player, but as a charming and likeable person, whose good humour in the face of adversity will have inspired many.

All in snooker – from his fellow players, to officials, journalists and everyone else backstage at tournaments as well of course as his many, many fans – will miss him very much.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of his passing is that he has not lived to see his daughter, Evie Rose, born on Boxing Day 2005, grow up.

One day she will find out how special her father was.

Paul Hunter: October 14, 1978-October 9, 2006



Is there any snooker story more boring than an Alex Higgins 'comeback'?

Higgins has been invited to play in the Irish Professional Championship next week. It makes sense for the organisers: he's a former champion but, more than that, he attracts considerable publicity for the event.

However, what people need to understand is this: Higgins is way, way past his best. Anyone who genuinely thinks this is a comeback is sadly misguided.

I don't begrudge Alex his latest return to competition. We should all remember his part in snooker's rise to prominence in the 1970s and 80s.

Higgins was the original bad-boy, but he was also a genius. Watch his 69 clearance against Jimmy White in their 1982 Crucible semi-final. Some of the shots he pulled off in that match-saving break remain beyond belief.

He was the 'people's champion' but these people should also accept his appalling record of behaviour.

It's tempting to look back misty-eyed on all this and take a kind of 'God bless Alex, he was a character' viewpoint but anyone who thinks physical assaults are acceptable have clearly never been on the end of one.

I prefer to remember Higgins from his 1982 world title victory, on the Crucible stage with his wife and daughter crying tears of happiness and relief, not as the figure he later became.



The Sportsman - the sports betting newspaper set up last March - has today shut down.

This is particularly disappointing for me as I was their snooker correspondent.

I was in the first issue and I was in what proved to be the last issue. If I say so myself, I got off to a blinding start by tipping James Wattana to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan in the China Open in the very first edition.

In fact, the whole of that tournament was successful for me but tipping, just like punting itself, is about swings and roundabouts and I didn't enjoy much success at the World Championship (tipping John Higgins to win the title; Michael Holt to reach the quarter-finals).

My last two tips? Ding Jun Hui to beat Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry to beat Steve Davis in tonight's Premier League.

The results? 5-1 to Jimmy and 5-1 to Steve.

Perhaps this is a good time to bow out.



World Snooker will announce on Thursday the venue and sponsor for The Masters as well as some other interesting news about the tournament.

I'm not going to pre-empt their announcement by revealing it here, but it is bound to cause plenty of discussion.


Well that was fun, at least for those of us not having to play.

Player opinion on the new round robin qualifying system employed for the Royal London Watches GrandPrix was mixed. Some were for it but most of those I spoke to were against it - though many of these failed to qualify.

One well known player I spoke to off the record said this: "There was no need to do this for the qualifiers. It's something television has demanded but there's no TV here. Everyone's had to come here for five days but some players will earn as little as £250 out of it. It should have been knockout. Best of fives are too short."

Others were for it and I have to say I was surprised at how well it worked. It was certainly exciting on the last day and I'd suggest things will be closer still in Aberdeen because the groups contain only six players.

On balance, I prefer knockout snooker, but this has been an interesting experiment and should guarantee tension in spades at the televised phase.

The qualifiers were:
Group A: Issara Kachaiwong, Jamie Jones
Group B: Michael Judge, Dominic Dale
Group C: Jamie Cope, Paul Davison
Group D: Judd Trump, David Roe
Group E: Liang Wenbo, Gerard Greene
Group F: Robin Hull, Fergal O'Brien
Group G: Ben Woollaston, Andrew Norman
Group H: Mark Allen, Tom Ford

You'll recall I tried to predict who would get through shortly before it all started. As it transpired, I got 7 out of 16 right: not great, but not a disaster either.


Halfway through a tense day here at Prestatyn and these are the Royal London Watches Grand Prix qualifiers so far...

Group A: Issara Kachaiwong, Jamie Jones
Group B: Michael Judge, Dominic Dale
Group C: Jamie Cope, Paul Davison
Group D: Judd Trump, David Roe

It's been exciting to say the least. Dale needed Shokat Ali to beat Sean Storey 3-2 - no other score would have done - to go through.

Ali led 2-1 before Storey levelled. The Grimsby man needed to win to qualify but lost the decider and Dale duly advanced, saying "I must be the luckiest man here."


Today promises to be fascinating as the 16 qualifiers for the Royal London Watches Grand Prix are finally known.

Here at Pontin’s, we have spent many an hour staring at the possibilities and all we have is a headache rather than a clear idea as to what will happen.

Jimmy White is out – we think, although there are scenarios being put forward that involve him going through in a one-frame shootout.

What we can say for sure is that the young players, used to this quickfire format, have fared the best.

The definite qualifiers so far are Judd Trump, Ben Woollaston, Issara Kachaiwong, Mark Allen, Jamie Cope and Liang Wenbo: all young, all good for the final stages where television debuts await for three of them.

Best of fives seem too short for many players here, but nobody can deny it’s exciting. And today it will get even more exciting as the qualifiers come down to the wire.



Around halfway into the Royal London Watches Grand Prix qualifiers, these are the players going through:

Group A: Ricky Walden and Matthew Couch
Group B: Andrew Higginson and Michael Judge
Group C: Jamie Cope and Rory McLeod
Group D: Judd Trump and John Parrott
Group E: David Morris and Liang Wenbo
Group F: Fergal O'Brien and Adrian Gunnell
Group G: Ben Woollaston and Andrew Norman
Group H: Mark Allen and Tom Ford

Much can change of course before Wednesday's final round of matches



A fire in one of the entertainment areas at Pontin's has caused the two playing arenas to be evacuated at the Royal London Grand Prix qualifiers.

The players have had to up-cues in the middle of their matches with no immediate sign when play can resume.

This is the last thing the tournament organisers wanted, bearing in mind the new round robin system which means there are around 40 matches played each day.

There will now be a huge backlog to get through, which suggests players and officials will be burning the midnight oil (not literally, I should add).

7PM UPDATE: Play has resumed after a two hour wait


Jimmy White lost his first two qualifying matches in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix at Pontin's, Prestatyn on Saturday and is now struggling to reach Aberdeen.

White was beaten 3-2 by Tom Ford and 3-1 by Joe Jogia and needs to win his last four group matches to stand any chance of making the TV phase.

However, another veteran, John Parrott, who beat White in the 1991 World Championship final, made a much better start, beating Drew Henry 3-2 and Dave Gilbert 3-1.

You can follow the scores live on GSC and worldsnooker.com by clicking the links to the right.