It was very much a case of job done for century-maker supreme Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Championship League in Essex on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the Dafabet Masters.

The Rocket took a well-documented eight-month sabbatical last year after losing to Stuart Bingham at the World Championships in April.

And much as in 2013 at the Crucible after almost an entire year out, there has been intrigue and fascination as to how he would perform next time out on the big stage.

That will come at Alexandra Palace next week when the five-time Masters champion has been drawn against Mark Williams in the first round, in a match to be played on Tuesday January 12th.

But after losing early in the German Masters qualifiers to Stuart Carrington, an appearance in Group One of the low-key tournament was likely and looked the right move.

And O’Sullivan must have ticked most of the boxes he was hoping to, winning all eight matches played over Monday and Tuesday to win the group, head through to the winners’ group later this season.

Along the way O’Sullivan also became the first player to smash through the 800 career century barrier, adding seven over the two days to extend his record tally to 802.

Can O’Sullivan, now 40, really keep taking such long spells away from the game and still be a contender for the biggest prizes? The bookmakers, many of his rivals and his army of fans certainly think so, with the Rocket pretty much joint-favourite for the Masters along with the in-form Neil Robertson.

O’Sullivan has not always enjoyed an entirely happy relationship with the Championship League. An occasional entrant, he once agreed to play, withdrew, saw his place handed elsewhere, and then called back and asked, unsuccessfully, to be reinstated.

We will know more next week at Alexandra Palace but this year it has appeared to provide exactly the warm-up vehicle O’Sullivan was looking for, a short drive away from his home in Essex.

Group One featured all of the famous ‘class of 1992’ trio with John Higgins and Williams also involved, having crossed swords with O’Sullivan so many times since turning professional 24 years ago.

The wins and the centuries were not long in coming for the Rocket, though. There were 3-2 and 3-0 victories over Williams and Ricky Walden respectively and then a break of 115 in a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Higgins.

A 106 helped him to a 3-2 win over Ryan Day, and there were runs of 117 and 126 in a 3-1 victory over Rob Milkins before the 800-barrier was breached with a break of 136 in a 3-1 success over Barry Hawkins.

O’Sullivan was not quite done, taking out Walden again in the group semi-finals before rattling in breaks of 120 and 133 in the final against Milkins, taking his career tally to 802.


Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos