When Ronnie O'Sullivan Walked Out On Stephen Hendry | 2006 UK Championship Quarter Final

The Class of 2023

It’s 31 years since Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams arrived at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool, ready to take the first steps in their professional careers.

Snooker has changed a lot over those three decades, but that trio of superstars are still regularly winning tournaments and populating the top ten of the world rankings.

The future of snooker looks bright, with younger stars taking the limelight at the Cazoo World Championship. Belgium’s 28-year-old Luca Brecel stole the show with his unique style and became the youngest Crucible king since Shaun Murphy in 2005. China’s 20-year-old Si Jiahui also showed his potential with a brilliant run to the semi-finals.

And with the amateur scene enjoying a revival in the UK and further afield, there are a crop of exciting teenagers hoping to emulate the achievements of the Class of ’92. Which of these will be snooker’s future superstars?

Stan Moody

Most will be able to relate to the story of when Moody first picked up a cue. Holidaying in Spain with his family aged nine, he frequented the hotel pool table more than the actual pool. On return to England, he visited Halifax Snooker Club and it was love at first frame.

An English Amateur Champion at under-14, 16 and 18 age groups, Moody instantly became a crowd favourite on his Shoot Out debut, thanks to his skills on the table and his endearing cheeky grin. And in February 2023, the 16-year-old won the World Snooker Federation (WSF) Junior Championship, earning him a two-year stay on the professional tour.

“Those tournaments are nice to win but they’re stepping stones to lift that World Championship trophy,” said Moody. “Until I get there I won’t settle. These next two years, I’m playing people who have been playing for 30 years so I’m going to enjoy it, have a laugh and it’s all good experience for me.

“My dream in life and snooker are the same thing. To become World Champion, multiple times, world number one, win the most ranking events. I just want to break every record that’s possible.

“Without sounding arrogant, I think because I’ve been so good so young, there’s expectation on my shoulders. The Shoot Out was a great experience, the crowd shouting, I nearly had a heart attack, but people were saying ‘this kid’s going places’. It’s a lot of pressure for someone young.”

Liam Davies

Last year, Davies became the youngest player ever to win matches in the World Championship as he reached the third qualifying round at the age of 15. This season, the former Welsh Under-21 champion has reached the WSF semi-finals and beaten Noppon Saengkham at his home event, the Welsh Open.

“I first started playing when I was about six in a labour club in Abergavenny,” said the 16-year-old. “My Dad used to play football and after the game we’d go back and all the football boys used to carry me around the table so I could hit the shots. I wanted another go so we went down to the local club, Mark Williams’ club.

“I appreciate being able to play with Mark and learning from everything he does. Even just the way he walks around the table is totally different from anything I’ve ever seen. He’s the perfect example of not putting any pressure on yourself.”

Support from family and friends is vital for any young sportsperson. Davies has that in abundance. Five years ago, Davies’ parents were looking for a rental unit for his table. They ended up buying a snooker club in Merthyr Tydfil instead.

“It’s unbelievable, the stuff my Mum and Dad do for me,” admitted Davies. “I’ll have to pay them back eventually. I’ll buy my Dad a nice garden shed and chuck him in the garden. But, that’s one thing I am very lucky with.”

Vladislav Gradinari

It was a family connection that inspired our next young cueman to try his hand on the baize. He first watched snooker on TV with his Grandad. At the age of nine, his Dad installed a table on the third floor of their house.

Gradinari, originally from Moldova, seems mature beyond his years. The 14-year-old moved to England in 2021, leaving his Grandparents and friends behind, and is now based at Levels Snooker Club in Huddersfield. With exams on the horizon, he balances home-schooling and a passion for economics with his amateur career.

“We moved for my snooker so I can improve faster,” said the Under-14 English Open champion. “My two very good friends didn’t want me to leave but we still talk every day.

“In snooker, my goal is to become professional, afterwards, World Champion. And my goal in life, you always want to have a lovely family when you grow up, so people can support you when you have hard moments.”

Like Moody, Gradinari made his name at the Shoot Out as one of the WPBSA wild cards, becoming the youngest ever winner of a televised ranking match with victory over Ng On Yee in the opening round. He went on to beat Victor Sarkis to reach the last 32 before losing to Tom Ford.

“I won and all the world just felt like mine,” he laughs. “Now, if I’m losing, I think of when I came off the table and the first thing I did was hug my Mum. She was nearly crying and this emotion will be with me all my life. I rang my Grandad, who was watching on TV, recording everything. I can’t imagine how it felt to him as he is the person who made me play snooker.”

Lilly Meldrum

Australian Meldrum reached the final of the Under-21 World Women’s Championship at the age of 13. She also made the semi-finals of two ranking events this season on the Women’s Tour and beat 12-time World Champion Reanne Evans at the World Cup for Australia.

“It felt like a dream,” said the 14-year-old. “I have always looked up to Reanne. I was fortunate enough to win on a black ball re-spot and was so proud to represent Australia!

“My dream is to become the World Women’s Champion and to play alongside Neil Robertson, Ronnie O’Sullivan and mix it with the best pros in the world. Hopefully, snooker becomes an Olympic sport too.”

 Iulian Boiko

The Ukrainian became the youngest-ever professional player when he was 14, securing his first win in the 2021 Gibraltar Open. Now 17, Boiko won the 2020 Six Red European Championship and reached the final of the WSF Open that same year.

 Riley Powell

Born in Tredegar, Powell is another who practises at Mark Williams’ snooker club, with both the under-14 and under-16 Welsh Championship title to his name. The 14-year-old beat Kyren Wilson at this season’s Shoot Out.

Natasha Chethan

The 14-year-old from Bangalore, India, recently reached the knockout stages of the 2023 Women’s World Championship on her debut. Chethan also won the Asia-Pacific Women’s Challenge Cup this campaign.

Liam Pullen

Based at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds, Pullen topped the English Under-21 Premier Development Tour and was beaten by Moody to the 2023 WSF Junior Championship.

Liam Graham

Glasgow has been a hotbed of snooker talent over the years, not least John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Anthony McGill and Graeme Dott, and 18-year-old Graham hopes to prove himself the latest on that production line. The 18-year-old won the recent EBSA European Under-21 Championship, beating Boiko in the final, to earn a pro tour card for the next two seasons.

Paul Deaville

Wolverhampton-based Deaville first showed his potential at the 2021 English Open when, playing as a wild card, he reached the last 16, notably beating Zhao Xintong. Just a few weeks ago the 18-year-old won the English Amateur Championship, joining a roll of honour that includes the likes of Ray Reardon, John Spencer, Terry Griffiths, Jimmy White and Stuart Bingham