Former snooker professional Craig Edwards @EdwardsTips_ gives BetWithUs his part one preview of his “Five to Follow” for the 2022/2023 snooker season
This is part one of my “Five to Follow”
I’ve got to confess I was chuffed to bits for Aaron Hill when he requalified for a Professional Snooker Tour card last week at Q-School 2.
Two years ago, Hill debuted the World Snooker Tour in the most remarkable style when beating the current World champion and reigning World Champion at the time, Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2020 European Masters.
That event saw the twenty-year-old from Cork reach the last 16 which remained the best tournament effort in his two-year cycle that floundered somewhat afterwards meaning a trip back to Q-School. There had been reminders of the promise that Hill threatened in his second season, particularly when he beat the reigning UK Champion, Zhao Xintong, funnily enough in the European Masters again.
There cannot be many players, if any, who have revisited Q-School when they have victories over the reigning World and UK Champions in their two-year cycle.
A return to Q-School turned out to be a huge positive for Aaron Hill who looked like an outstanding player in the qualifying series. In the first event, he lost the penultimate match to Luke Simmonds 3-4 from 3-1 ahead.
A week later he came through event 2 resoundingly with five-century breaks and the best 50+ average of all competitors over the two events. When interviewed afterwards, Hill admitted to feeling down after the previous week’s result but his housemates and fellow Irish snooker players, Rodney Goggins and Ross Bulman picked him up. He mentioned that he’d also received a text from fellow Irishman, Fergal O’Brien that helped. Fergal is one of the most respected players on tour and he managed to secure his playing privileges for the first time of asking in event 1 at the grand age of fifty. He also mentioned in the interview that he had been in constant contact with O’Brien during Q-School 2.
I cannot imagine a player having a better confidante than Fergal O’Brien, a player who once reached a Masters final and still competes at the highest level. I cannot say, I’m surprised, however, given I’ve watched an awful lot of Aaron Hill play in his two years on tour and the one major factor that strikes me is his solid temperament, that’s older than his age. Watching the young man play, it’s obvious he is professional in all aspects of his approach and constantly shows a good attitude.
I was struck by those qualities about Aaron Hill before he needed to revisit Q-School and backed him accordingly on 16/1 (17.00) for event 1, again in event 2 at 8/1 (9.00) which happily won.
Professional Snooker is a tough sport on the mind and only the strongest survive. To me, Aaron Hill has those qualities in abundance and the raw potential to go to the top of the sport. Without a doubt, Aaron Hill is a player to follow in 2022/2023.
Pang Junxu was the “Rookie of the Year” in 2021 after a string of impressive deep runs to four last 16s of world ranking events.
That 2020/2021 was very striking for the young Chinese player and it included a run to the last 16 of the UK Championship, the second most prestigious tournament on the calendar. During that season he beat household names like Anthony McGill, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Barry Hawkins and Stephen Maguire, if that isn’t impressive enough, several of these were on the Televised tables.
Things became a little more laboured for Junxu in his second season but that’s nothing unusual in the grand scheme of a player’s career. Often those with a bright rookie season dip in the second year, it’s something I label Second Season Syndrome in my book EDWARDS SNOOKER FORM 2022. After the high of a brilliant rookie, season players are naturally susceptible to fall below their expectations in season 2 while their opponents have got to grips with their attributes and formulated a plan to combat their style easier.
It’s Pang Junxu’s playing style that does interest me. He’s known as one of the heaviest practised Chinese players, and that’s quite a compliment given how hard they all practice. He’s not a flashy type of player but looks to have a strong all-around game which when functioning has the upside and ability to outplay the sport’s best. At the end of the 2021/2022 campaign, Junxu reminded us of his high functioning ability when he took the season’s best player, Neil Robertson apart at the European Masters.
With last season’s stall behind him, I’m expecting Pang Junxu to kick on in the coming year to the higher echelons of the sport. His style looks perfectly suited to the longer forms of the game so maybe we should expect him to go deep in the World or UK Championship, either way, I’m expecting Pang Junxu to make the semi-finals of a world ranking event in the coming season meaning he features strongly in my “Five to Follow”.