For a sport dominated by three men for so long, to say it was a surprise when a former electrician who had turned professional less than a year prior won the World Championship would be the understatement of the century.
Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen had captured 17 of the previous 22 world titles between them, and one of the trios was expected to triumph at the 2018 edition too.
But Rob Cross, the sparky who had considered giving up the game at one point, made a mockery of his own inexperience by lifting darts’ most prestigious trophy in his debut at the iconic Alexandra Palace.
For context of how he rose through the ranks of the professional game, ‘Voltage’ – who turned pro on February 1, 2017 – was 250/1 to win the World Championship according to the darts betting odds available with the bookmakers on that date, and was still available at 125/1 a matter of weeks prior to the tournament starting.
And in beating both Van Gerwen and Taylor on his way to lifting the trophy, it’s fair to say that Cross earned every penny of his £400,000 winner’s cheque.
The 2019/20 campaign is now well underway, so the question on every darts fans’ lips is can anybody emulate the Englishman’s staggering achievement? Here are three players who just might.
Having already reached a World Championship quarter-final, if Luke Humphries were to lift the trophy in January it would be less of a shock than Cross’ incredible rise.
But even so, the 24-year-old’s elevation to the upper echelons of the game has been eerily similar to the man from Hastings’s.
Humphries was competing on the PDC Development Tour, essentially a breeding ground for young talent, for much of 2018, and so he headed to Alexandra Palace as something of an unknown quantity.
But victories over former world champions Cross and Stephen Bunting, as well as a 4-1 triumph over the highly-rated Dimitri van den Bergh, confirmed that ‘Cool Hand Luke’ fully deserved his place amongst the big boys.
Fresh from an appearance in the Premier League as one of the ‘contenders’ replacing Gary Anderson, big things are expected from Humphries in 2019 and beyond.
The flag-bearer for German darts has enjoyed a slow and steady rise to the top-32 of the PDC rankings.
Still only 22-years-old, those who enjoy a bet can get 100/1 on Max Hopp winning the 2020 World Championship, and that looks to be excellent value.
He’s already won the German Darts Open and a Players Championship event, as well as reaching the last 32 of all of the PDC’s major tournaments.
Hopp has a high ceiling in terms of his performance level, and regularly averages over the magic mark of one hundred. If his development continues as it has, he could emulate Cross as a huge outsider to win the world title.
If Gavin Carlin was to win the World Championship, his career trajectory would be just as impressive as Cross’.
The Irishman only claimed his Tour Card at Q School in January 2019, but he’s already caught the eye with a series of strong performances on the Pro Tour.
He’ll now be looking to kick on in the big stage events on TV, but he’s already beaten three-time world champion Glen Durrant at the UK Open, so the signs are very promising indeed.
Quite whether any of the trio of players named here can achieve the stratospheric rise of Cross remains to be seen, but they certainly all have the talent to do exactly that.