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The stars of world Rugby League are about to play off for the most famous trophy in the sport, the World Cup, but it might not have been after the "priceless" silverware was stolen in 1970.

Commissioned by the French Fdration Franaise de Rugby XIII president Paul Barrire at a cost of eight million francs, the Cup was donated to the International Rugby League Board to be used for the inaugural competition in 1954.

This trophy would be used and presented to the winning nation for the next four tournaments.

While competing in the 1970 tournament, the reigning champions, Australia, put the trophy on display in the Midland Hotel, Bradford. The trophy was stolen six days before the final and remained unseen for the next 20 years.

It was finally found by father-of-four Stephen Uttley in a ditch near the Bradford and Bingley Rugby League Club in 1990.

Mr Uttley made persistent enquiries to uncover the identity of the long-lost silverware before finally discovering just what he had in his possession.

Mr Uttley presented officials of the Rugby Football League with the 61 centimetre high silver-plated trophy in Bradford, where he lived, it was then taken to the RFL's headquarters in Leeds.

Speaking on its return, RFL spokesman David Howes commented, "It is like the return of the Holy Grail. No-one knows what its value is, but in rugby league terms it is priceless".

The RFL were pleased to offer a reward to Mr Uttley for the trophy's welcome return, offering "anything except a place in the team" Howes joked.

Mr Uttley asked only for some tickets to matches.

The trophy will this weekend return to the hotel is was stolen from.

RFL Historian Tony Collins commented: The disappearance for 20 years of the Rugby League World Cup trophy is one of the great sporting mysteries but fortunately it is one with a happy ending and it will be a little slice of sporting history when it re-appears in the lobby at the Midland Hotel in Bradford.

The General Manager of the Midland Hotel, Gary Peacock said: We look forward to welcoming back the magnificent Rugby League World Cup trophy to the Midland Hotel over 40 years after it checked out unnoticed and I can assure everyone that we will not be taking our eyes off it throughout its stay.

The original World Cup trophy was brought back into use for the 2000 World Cup minus the cockerel that had adorned it initially.

It was presented to the victorious Australian team. The trophy featured again during the 2008 World Cup, when it was used prominently as the basis for the competition logo.