When the Rugby League World Cup trophy went missing

The World Cup trophy has been restored to its former glory – but for 20 years, it was missing altogether.

Now called The Paul Barriere Trophy, after the trailblazing Frenchmen who was the brainchild of the World Cup, it was commissioned for the inaugural tournament in 1954.

But when holders Australia put it on display at the Midland Hotel in Bradford, it was stolen – some six days before the final in 1970.

Ironically, the trophy wasn’t going to be presented to the 1970 winners anyway, with a new trophy having been commissioned due to sponsorship. Several different trophies would be used from 1972 until 1995.

The cockerel which was restored to the trophy ahead of a special presentation in the build up to the 2021 World Cup on Friday, had gone missing prior to the trophy’s disappearance and the location of the original remains unknown.

The trophy itself was found in a ditch in 1990 by Bradford resident Stephen Uttley and his wife Elizabeth near a rugby club in Bingley.

Uttley was initially unaware of the significance of the find, and made enquiries with local clubs including Bradford Northern but was unable to find the original owners.

He gave the trophy to police, but it was returned to him 28 days later, and an approach to local television was rebuffed.

It was eventually identified by rugby league historian Trevor Delaney, after an article had been run in the local newspaper saying it was to be used as a bodybuilding trophy at a health club in Bradford.

The RFL offered a reward to Uttley, who asked only for some match tickets, and the trophy was presented to Roger Millward in June 1990.

The trophy was used again for the 2000 World Cup, and each subsequent edition, and was renamed ahead of the 2017 tournament.

Professor Tony Collins, a sports and social historian and author specialising in Rugby League, added: “It’s been wonderful to see the Rugby League World Cup trophy unveiled today, as it was originally imagined.

“The story of the loss of the trophy back in 1970 is one I’ve told for many years so having this new cockerel fitted is the perfect ending. Perhaps seeing the new cockerel will prompt someone to realise they unknowingly have the original on their mantelpiece, and one of the greatest sporting mysteries of all time will finally be solved!”

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