LUKE 'The Nuke' Littler continued his breathtaking rise when achieving another nine-dart finish en route to victory in an epic final on his Players Championship debut today.

The Warrington 17-year-old, who has taken the darts scene by storm since his World Championships debut over the festive period, produced a memorable victory in the opening Players Championship event of 2024 in Wigan, defying a staggering 111.71 average from Ryan Searle to triumph in the thrilling decider.

'The Nuke' produced a quartet of ton-topping averages on his way to victory, as he became only the third player to win a title on his Players Championship debut.

Littler kicked off proceedings with a crushing 6-1 win over Jim Williams, averaging 105.48 and posting seven maximums to send out a statement to the 128-player field at the Robin Park Tennis Centre.

The Warrington wonderkid then followed up victory over Luke Woodhouse with a comprehensive 6-1 success against Italy’s Michele Turetta, wrapping up proceedings with a magical nine-darter.

It was the second nine-darter in the space of a month for Littler, who also achieved perfection in his title winning campaign at the Bahrain Darts Masters.

Littler came agonisingly close to another nine-darter in his last 16 clash against Cameron Menzies, missing double 12 for perfection in leg five, before closing out victory with a 109 average.

The World Youth Champion posted another ton-plus average to defeat James Hurrell in the quarter-finals, although he survived a scare in his semi-final win over Alan Soutar, eventually winning through in a decider.

This set up a tantalising showdown against Searle, and the pair combined to produce one of the greatest finals in Players Championship history.

Littler stole an early march with back-to-back 13-darters, only for Searle to reduce the arrears with an unconventional 103 finish in leg three.

Both players continued to trade holds in a contest littered with quality, as a spectacular 136 checkout in leg eight powered Littler into a 5-3 advantage.

Searle responded with consecutive 11 and 12-dart holds to reduce the arrears, but Littler was undeterred, conjuring up an effortless 85 finish on the bull to move a leg away from victory at 7-5.

The drama continued as Searle rattled in his second 11-darter of the contest to force a decider, but Littler wasn’t to be denied, replying with a 13-dart break on tops to scoop the £15,000 winner’s prize.

“I know my game is there, I know I can beat anyone, and I’m really happy to have won,” reflected Littler, who already has his sights set on World Matchplay qualification.

“Me and my manager know what I have to do to qualify for the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix.

“I’ve got about 13 or 14 ProTours before the World Matchplay, but it’s always good to get off to a good start.

“I want to try and qualify for everything, and I’ve just got to play my game. I’m taking it in my stride.

“It takes huge pressure off me, and now hopefully I can settle and enjoy it.”

Former world champion Gerwyn Price, meanwhile, withdrew halfway through his third round match after what he claimed were “absolutely pathetic conditions”.

Price was trailing 4-2 on legs against Brendan Dolan in a best-of-11 encounter when he forfeited the match at Robin Park Tennis Centre and Dolan was handed a bye into the next round.

The Welshman later wrote on Instagram Stories: “Absolutely pathetic conditions, travel all the way to Wigan to play in a professional game and we have to play in less than amateur conditions.

“Never have (a) ever given a game up, well that’s me out tomorrow as well. Gutted because my game was really good today and I rely on these events so much.”

Price did not elaborate on why he felt the playing conditions were so poor. The second Players Championship event takes place at the same venue on Tuesday.

A PDC spokesperson told the PA news agency: “Gerwyn decided not to complete his match against Brendan Dolan and left the venue immediately.

“We understand he felt the venue was cold.”

Luke Humphries, who beat Littler to claim his first World Championship crown, was the victim of a shock defeat on the first day of action at the Robin Park Tennis Centre as the second seed crashed out 6-0 to Ian White.