Top-flight Wes

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WES NEWTON thought that he was the victim of a prank call

when Professional Darts Corporation chairman Barry Hearn told him he would compete in the McCoy’s Premier League Darts this year.

Newton, the world no.7 from Fleetwood, is one of three new faces in the expanded 10-man Premier League, which kicks off in Belfast tonight.

The 35-year-old, who takes on 2009 champion James Wade, has spent the past two years ranked inside the world’s top 10 but missed out on a wildcard 12 months ago after Kevin Painter won his first major title and Andy Hamilton reached the World Championship final.

Runner-up in the 2012 European Championship to Simon Whitlock, Newton reached three other televised quarter-finals and landed a nine-darter at the World Matchplay in Blackpool last summer to press his Premier League credentials.

However, he has revealed that he thought a call from PDC Chairman Barry Hearn telling him of his inclusion in this year’s £520,000 event was a joke being played by friends.

“I thought it was someone winding me up. I didn’t believe it at first,” he admitted. “I even had to ask Barry if he was saying what I thought he was.

“I didn’t sleep that night, and when I went round to my parents’ house I was shaking with excitement when I was telling them!

“It will be a new experience for me and I can’t wait to get on stage for the first game of the season. Every player wants to be world champion but the Premier League is up there with it now.

“In some ways I thought that the longer I took to get into the Premier League, the better player I’ll be and I’m delighted it’s this year.

“It’s something I wanted so much and I’ve finally got it so I’m over the moon. I suppose it will finally seem real when I go up on stage for the first time.”

The Premier League seemed a long way off for Newton when he slipped down to 36th in the world during 2009, but he left his job in accounting to become a full-time professional and has not looked back since by winning seven ranking events and reaching two televised finals.

The opening Premier League night the sold-out Odyssey Arena in Belfast sees reigning champion Phil Taylor play debutant Michael van Gerwen in a repeat of the World Championship final.

Adrian Lewis, who won the Betfair World Cup of Darts alongside Taylor in Hamburg last weekend, plays last year’s Premier League runner-up Whitlock, while Raymond van Barneveld meets Gary Anderson and the other newcomer, Robert Thornton, faces Andy Hamilton.