THERE is just one man that all the seeded stars would have wanted to avoid in the first round of darts’ Betfred World Matchplay later this month – Luke ‘The Nuke’ Littler!

But one of the top 16 PDC ranked throwers had to be drawn against the Warrington 17-year-old, who won the Premier League in his maiden campaign at elite level.

St Helens throwers Michael Smith, Stephen Bunting and Dave Chisnall have all managed to avoid him.

Littler bagged his coveted place at Blackpool Winter Gardens thanks to winning three PDC ranking titles already this year, so he enters the Sky Sports televised event as one of five debutants and is not seeded.

The 16 seeded players, which include Smith, Bunting and Chisnall all avoid each other in the first round and instead face one of the 16 whose qualification place was secured via the ProTour Order of Merit.

It is a star-studded field that will be competing for the coveted Phil Taylor Trophy in the Empress Ballroom from July 13-21.

World Champion Luke Humphries is the top seed in the £800,000 event following his remarkable exploits over the last 12 months, with three-time World Matchplay winner Michael van Gerwen seeded second.

2023 World Champion Smith and 2022 World Matchplay runner-up Gerwyn Price are third and fourth respectively, while reigning champion Nathan Aspinall makes his Winter Gardens return as the number five seed.

Former champions Rob Cross (sixth), Dimitri Van den Bergh (ninth) and Peter Wright (10th) are also among the seeded stars, along with 2023 runner-up Jonny Clayton.

So in the draw today, it is mighty Dutchman Michael van Gerwen who has ended up being paired with former Padgate Academy student Littler.

Smith will face Gary Anderson, Bunting will square up with Ryan Joyce, while Chisnall will go toe-to-toe with Krzysztof Ratajski.

2024 Betfred World Matchplay first round draw:

Rob Cross v Gian van Veen

Ross Smith v Josh Rock

Nathan Aspinall v Luke Woodhouse

Gerwyn Price v Daryl Gurney

Peter Wright v Andrew Gilding

Damon Heta v Ryan Searle

Joe Cullen v Brendan Dolan

Chris Dobey v Ritchie Edhouse

Jonny Clayton v Raymond van Barneveld

Luke Humphries v Ricardo Pietreczko

Dave Chisnall v Krzysztof Ratajski

Michael van Gerwen v Luke Littler

Danny Noppert v James Wade

Michael Smith v Gary Anderson

Dimitri Van den Bergh v Martin Schindler

Stephen Bunting v Ryan Joyce

2024 Betfred World Matchplay PDC Order of Merit Top 16

(Seeded for first round draw)

1. Luke Humphries

2. Michael van Gerwen

3. Michael Smith

4. Gerwyn Price

5. Nathan Aspinall

6. Rob Cross

7. Dave Chisnall

8. Jonny Clayton

9. Dimitri Van den Bergh

10. Peter Wright

11. Damon Heta

12. Danny Noppert

13. Ross Smith

14. Chris Dobey

15. Joe Cullen

16. Stephen Bunting

Betfred World Matchplay ProTour Order of Merit Qualifiers:

Gary Anderson

Josh Rock

Ryan Searle

Martin Schindler

Gian van Veen

Luke Littler

Ricardo Pietreczko

Daryl Gurney

Ryan Joyce

Raymond van Barneveld

Brendan Dolan

Ritchie Edhouse

Krzysztof Ratajski

Luke Woodhouse

Andrew Gilding

James Wade