JOHN Henderson admits he feels lucky to be in the Premier League – but wants to take full advantage by becoming the first challenger to win in the event.
The Highlander is the guest player for the opening night of the PDC’s invitational event in Aberdeen tomorrow night.
Hendo faces Nathan Aspinall at P&J Live with 8,000 north-east darts fans expected to be cheering him on.
Twelve months ago the Huntly thrower battled to an incredible 6-6 draw against then world champion and world No 1 Michael van Gerwen.
He was drafted in as a contender at short notice after Gary Anderson pulled out with a back problem.
Henderson was one of nine challengers involved last year and, although he didn’t expect the PDC to retain the format this year, he hopes to make the most of the experience and become the first challenger to win.
The 46-year-old will be the underdog against world No 8 Aspinall but said: “Last year there were nine of us (challengers) and four of us got draws so hopefully this can be the year somebody wins.
“It’s nice to be on the opening night and have the opportunity to be the first challenger to win. If I win then it’s great, but if not I’ll take the experience and hope to use it for the rest of the season.
“I wasn’t sure if they would go with the challenger idea again so I suppose it’s lucky for me that they have.
“Last year Gary pulled out quite late on so they tried something different. I think it maybe did need something different because a lot of people were saying it had gone stale.
“Personally I love the Premier League and if it was down to me I would do it as the top 10 in the rankings and then you wouldn’t get people arguing about why some people are in it and some aren’t.
“But for me personally, I just want to grab this opportunity with both hands because of the prestige of the event.
“The chance to play in front of a home crowd is a massive occasion and you can’t get any better than that.
“I’ve got to know Nathan quite well since he got his tour card. The semi-final of the world championships last year was his big breakthrough.
“Then he went on to win the UK Open last year and the Las Vegas Masters in the World Series.
“So he had a good year and then he reached the world championship semi-finals again.
“He’s proven himself on the stage and it will be really hard game for me.”
Henderson is relishing the chance to play in front of a sell-out crowd at the Granite City’s new arena tomorrow.
He believes a passionate and vocal local support made all the difference last year as he dew with van Gerwen.
The Highlander added: “I think the crowd got me a draw last year against Michael van Gerwen because I just fed off it.
“That crowd was phenomenal last year and I didn’t expect to get the chance to play in that sort of atmosphere again unless I went on and got into the Premier League.
“But I’ve been given this second opportunity as a challenger and it’s in a new arena.
“There are going to be 3,500 more fans than last year so it will be quite noisy and a fantastic night.
“It’s a fantastic line-up with Peter Wright against van Gerwen and Gary Anderson back in the fold plus myself as another Scotsman. I’m sure it will be a great night of darts.”
A year ago Henderson’s impressive performance in the Premier League led to a strong start to the year on the PDC’s Pro Tour.
And he hopes another fine display can be the catalyst for good form in the early part of 2020.
He said: “Being involved in this does give you a boost. Getting a result like I did against Michael last year was always going to give me an enormous boost.
“If I’d turned up and lost 7-0 in front of that crowd it would have been devastating.
“But I proved I could do it on that stage. So hopefully I can do it against Nathan and it can have a similar effect where I kick on and start the year well after being in the Premier League.”