When Judd Trump meets Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round of the Cazoo Players Championship on Tuesday night it marks the latest chapter of a rivalry between two authentic crowd-pleasers.
A match-up which could easily have been a final, they are clashing in the first round because Trump is 14th on the one-year list used to determine the 16-man field. This season he has so far failed to get past the quarter-finals of a ranking event, although he did win the prestigious Champion of Champions last November.
Trump and Mark Selby have been trading the world No 1 position this season but, with Selby absent from the field, O’Sullivan will return to top spot for the first time in three years if he wins the title.
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When he was starting out, the forty-somethings were great players of their day on the slide – the likes of Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thorburn. Trump may have reasonably expected that the players he idolised as a boy would have seriously declined by now, but there is no sign of that.
Trump is six months from his 33rd birthday and has won 22 ranking titles. At the same age, O’Sullivan had won 20, although there were fewer ranking events back in 2008.
The 20th was his third world title, and this is important to note because, like it or not, snooker careers are ultimately measured by the sport’s biggest event. The World Championship is an examination of skill, stamina and nerve like no other. It defines a snooker player in the public mind for good or bad.
Jimmy White was blessed with genius but is still inevitably introduced as the six times Crucible runner-up rather than by any of the many other titles he won.
Neil Robertson is a modern great but admits he needs to improve on his 2010 world title success to cement his place in the all-time pantheon.

Trump and O'Sullivan's history at the Northern Ireland Open

Trump won the title three years ago but has not made it past the quarter-finals since. There is still time, but he faces challenges on three fronts – younger stars emerging, such as Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, the established order represented by Robertson and Selby and the older legends who refuse to lie down, O’Sullivan in particular.
Trump is an extraordinary shot-maker who has instilled iron discipline in his game to become a consistent winner. He deserves more credit than he has generally received for winning the amount of tournaments he has in a relatively short space of time: 14 ranking titles in three seasons, plus the Masters, from 2018 to 2021.
These were not small events, as some detractors like to claim. Seven of them carried first prizes of at least £100,000. None of them were easy to win. His best characteristics – fantastic potting, heavy scoring, shrewd safety play and poise under pressure – came to the fore each time.
The focus and application required to churn out win after win, round after round, is considerable and Trump channelled the mindset of a Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry to go into every event determined to come away as its champion.
In three successive Northern Ireland Open finals, he defeated O’Sullivan. Trump has an overall winning record against him and has won five of their last six meetings. O’Sullivan’s last victory was a 10-9 success on the final black in the 2019 Tour Championship semi-finals. Trump had missed the yellow to win.

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Trump’s problem is not beating O’Sullivan, it’s the inevitable career-wide comparisons with him.
The modern metric for success is the ‘triple crown’ of World Championship, UK Championship and Masters, although this is not the historic measure many would have us believe.
Steve Davis would not have recognised the ‘triple crown’. In his day, the new events which counted towards the world rankings were considered majors. At the 1987 Masters, Davis lost in the first round and, when asked why he thought he had only won the tournament once, replied that he possibly did not try as hard as in the ranking events.
The last player to actually complete the triple crown in the same season was Mark Williams in 2002/03, but not much was made of this at the time. However, when Williams also won the other BBC televised event – the LG Cup – at the start of the following season, he was said to have completed the ‘Grand Slam.’ Nothing more has been heard of this since the BBC dropped their fourth event in 2010.
Even so, we are where we are and Trump has so far won the world, UK and Masters titles on one occasion each. This makes him one of only 11 players to have completed the triple crown, but O’Sullivan has won 20 of these titles.
Time and again, O’Sullivan has come good on the big occasion. His very presence in a tournament creates a frisson of excitement. Trump is hugely popular with audiences, especially younger snooker fans, but is yet to develop this aura because O’Sullivan occupies so much of the bandwidth.

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Every time it seems the baton has been passed, O’Sullivan wrenches it back. So much of the spotlight is on him that his rivals are often left in the shadows.
The Rocket is snooker’s biggest star, an endlessly fascinating force of nature who has dazzled audiences for 30 years. He can never be written off.
In 2019, Trump outplayed him in the Masters final, won the World Championship and became world No 1. O’Sullivan did little of note the following season while Trump won five ranking titles, but the campaign ended with O’Sullivan winning his sixth world title to great acclaim.
It was a bit like a much-loved actor turning up late on in a play, stealing the final scene and ending the night with a standing ovation.
O’Sullivan belongs to a golden generation, with Williams and John Higgins, born at the height of the UK snooker boom. They learned their trade amid the thriving junior and amateur circuits of Britain and are the game’s true survivors and among its greatest champions.
This holy snooker triumvirate known as the ‘Class of ’92’ are like red wine on a white rug. You can try to scrub them out all you want, but they aren’t shifting.
Since Trump reached his last ranking final 11 months ago, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams have between them appeared in seven. O’Sullivan won his 38th ranking title at the World Grand Prix just before Christmas.
Their longevity is remarkable. Higgins, a humble man, said last week he felt he is playing better then he ever has. His capture of the Players Championship last season for the loss of only four frames is exhibit A in the evidence that he may be right.
Whether O’Sullivan is quite the player he was is a matter of opinion, but what isn’t is that he remains the sport’s dominant character, attracting headlines and interest like no other. He is 46 but still plays a youthful game and remains the benchmark for those aspiring to be successful on the green baize.
Trump is in many ways the perfect talisman for snooker: young, talented and positive with a formidable work ethic and genuine desire to grow the game.
But the throne can only truly be his when snooker’s perennial king across the water has abdicated. And Ronnie O’Sullivan shows no signs of going anywhere just yet.
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