Chris Rattue runs through a debrief following the Auckland Darts Masters including the long term plans for the event and which player left New Zealand with 49 bottles of wine.
The tournament - won on Sunday by world champion Gary Anderson - will return in August next year and is looking good as a long term fixture in Auckland. While domestic darts is a tiny dot on the New Zealand sports landscape, the presence of Darts Players New Zealand and credible local structures is crucial to the PDC's long-term interest here. The Darts Masters, part of the fledgling World Series, was allocated to Auckland on a year-by-year basis, and officials told the
it would definitely return next year in the preferred August time slot.
2) There will be tweaks. The plan is for a small grand stand to be erected at the back of the Trusts Arena in west Auckland. This will help the atmosphere, give some people an improved view, and slightly increase the capacity which is about 4000. There are also plans to close off some of the upstairs area if it is not full, which will give a more crowded look to the TV coverage. A couple of younger rising stars from Europe may freshen up the field.
3) The crowd atmosphere is excellent, but it still doesn't match the noise generated at tournaments in Britain...and apparently that might be a good thing. The Herald was told that some of the football style chanting and exchanges were regarded as undesirable.
4) The Auckland tournament is considered a success by the PDC, even though it fell short of capacity crowds this time. It is said to have "taken off" a lot better than in Dubai, the opening event in this year's World Series.
5) The players don't get much time to see the country but popular targets are Waiheke Island (and a particular winery there) and Hobbiton. World number one Michael van Gerwen bought 49 bottles of wine on one trip.
6) From the 'don't judge a book by its cover' department: All the players were in various states of jet lag, because this year's Olympics meant the Auckland tournament was brought forward and squeezed into the busy June schedule. The two most obviously affected last week were Adrian Lewis, winner of the inaugural 2015 tournament, and his fellow Englishman James Wade. Lewis looked shattered after the first night, slumping on a chair in the press room as if he hadn't slept for days. Wade looked very fragile, the combination of medication, the flight from Europe, a lack of sleep and the arena heat knocking him for six. Yet Lewis made the final, and Wade produced the best darts of his career to crush van Gerwen.
7) They world's best darts players are an interesting, friendly but staunch lot without many filters. Anderson, who was most impressive in claiming the title, bridled when asked in the media room about a possible flaw in Adrian Lewis' game. The Scot fired up, suggesting it was easy to "criticise" from behind a laptop, and inviting the media (there were three of us) to have a go at landing doubles on stage. It was a standard sporting question but Anderson was in no mood to receive it well. There is a certain camaraderie among the darts opponents who spend much of the year in each other's company. Anderson and Lewis were spotted at a table having a chat before they played the final.
8) Some players and officials were delighted to find they were in the same central Auckland hotel as the Sydney Roosters, who were in town to play the Warriors. Roosters coach Trent Robinson gave seven of his staff - including recent England league coach Steve McNamara - Saturday night off to attend the darts.
9) The league lovers among the PDC troupe were bemused to see a giant advertising billboard near the airport still featuring Sam Tomkins, the ex-Warrior who is back at Wigan.
10) Anderson was hugely enthusiastic about the prospects of Aucklander Cody Harris, a wildcard entry for the Darts Masters who impressed at the World Cup in Germany where New Zealand played Anderson's Scotland team. The 30-year-old Harris, the Kiwi number one who is an unemployed father of five, is considering entering the PDC qualifying school.
Harris was considered an outside chance against Holland's Raymond van Barneveld, but was well beaten in Friday's first round. Anderson said hometown pressure may have played a part, something he felt in Scotland despite all his success and experience.
Anderson said: "Cody is something else and New Zealand has a little superstar just sitting, waiting to happen."
But Michael van Gerwen in particular cautioned Australasian prospects about how hard it is to make the shift to Europe. Not only is the darts standard very high, players must establish a sound base far from home and not necessarily in financially comfortable circumstances.
11) Spectators in fancy dress are an essential part of top level darts. An odd byproduct was the strange pile of "weapons" including wooden rifles confiscated at the gates. Security measures included a thorough frisking - a first (I think) for this punter at a New Zealand sports venue. It didn't appear to dampen the mood, and may well have enhanced it among certain groups.
12) And finally, who the heck is Reggie? A crowd member was yelling "Come on Reggie" during one of Phil Taylor's matches. The yeller was Taylor's ever present personal assistant Bob Glenn. The legendary Taylor is always in high demand and meets a lot of people, but has a shocking memory for names. He deals with that by calling a lot of those people 'Reg'.