I need to confess. You see, I’ve been carrying this secret around for quite a few years and it’s time I spilled the beans.

I, Melinda Farrell, threw the Rugby League World Cup into a rubbish skip. Literally. A massive, industrial, orange skip.

Then I picked it up and shoved it on top of a huge pile of garbage, before artfully draping piles of goodness-knows-what all over it. By the time I’d finished with that trophy it had all sorts of dirt and grime smeared over it.

But… that’s starting at the wrong end of the story.

It was summer in the north of England and I was working on the Sky Sports rugby league production team. The job required so much driving around the north that, years later, I’m still stretching out my hamstrings. If you parachuted me blindfolded into Yorkshire or Lancashire I could immediately lead you to the nearest rugby league ground (via the cafe with the best bacon butties of course).

During those frequent trips I’d often find myself in the same car as Mike Stephenson, the English commentator best known as Stevo to Super League viewers. Stevo has such a passion for the history of the game it led him to open a museum in Huddersfield’s George Hotel, the birthplace of rugby league. Unfortunately the Hotel, a victim of tough economic times, recently closed its doors, leaving the collection homeless for the time being.

But history is as much in the telling as the seeing, and it was on those journeys across the Yorkshire moors with Stevo that I learned to appreciate the rich and fascinating heritage of rugby league. How the George Hotel meeting came about. Or the importance of monumental figures like Jim Sullivan, Billy Boston and Brian Bevan.

Then there were the World Cup stories. In 1972, the last time Great Britain won the title, it was Stevo who levelled the scores with a classic hooker’s try. The match finished a 10 all draw but, in an age before extra time and golden point, a count back system was in place and Great Britain was declared the winner. Can you imagine the controversy?

It was a groundbreaking moment as captain Clive Sullivan lifted the trophy. Sullivan was a Welsh flyer who also happened to be black, and in 1972 it was virtually unheard of to see a black man leading a British national team. His legacy lives on in many ways and when fans flock to Hull to watch England take on Fiji, they’ll drive into the city on Clive Sullivan Way.

But the cup hoisted by the captain that day isn’t the trophy awaiting the winner of this year’s tournament, nor is the trophy I treated so disrespectfully decades later.

International Rugby league is littered with fascinating stories and figures that go far beyond Dally Messenger. The man acknowledged as the father of the World Cup isn’t an Australian, an Englishman or even a Kiwi.

Paul Barriere was a French resistance fighter during World War II who subsequently became the president of the French Federation Francaise de Rugby a XIII. A passionate advocate of rugby league in a country where the sport was banned by the Nazi puppet government, Barriere spearheaded the push for the first tournament, held in France, in 1954 and commissioned the creation of a magnificent trophy costing eight million francs.

Most sports fans have heard how the round ball world cup trophy was lost and then found by a dog, named Pickles.

But few people realize rugby league has it’s own tale of a mystery disappearance and an incredible discovery.

The trophy commissioned by Barriere was the prize at the first five World Cups including the 1968 tournament, when Johnny Raper captained Australia to victory over France at the Sydney Cricket Ground. When the Australians returned to England to defend their title in 1970, they put the silverware on display in the foyer of their Bradford hotel. Six days before the final an enterprising thief somehow managed to pocket the 61 centremetre tall trophy and spirit it away to a still-unknown hideout, putting paid to the rumour that all Yorkshiremen have short pockets.

For two decades the trophy remained in hiding and was presumed forever lost while a series of replacements, rather plain in comparison to the original, were used.

Enter a man called Stephen Uttley and his dog, whose name seems to have disappeared from the annals of rugby league history, a terrible shame. Uttley was taking his pooch for a walk past a rubbish tip at Dowley Gap, in the small Yorkshire town of Bingley, when the puppy sleuth uncovered a shiny lump of metal in a litter-filled ditch, perhaps confusing it with a rather large water dish.

Uttley took the trophy home where his kids promptly claimed it as a toy bin. But, realizing the magnificent craftsmanship might make it a bit too important for storing lego and cabbage patch kids, Uttley called local rugby clubs and notified the police. When the local Telegraph and Argos newspaper printed a photo of the trophy, rugby league historian Trevor Delaney recognised it as Barriere’s long lost masterpiece and the cup was promptly returned to the Rugby Football League, where it was restored to it’s former glory and once more became the official silverware, lifted by the Kangaroos in 2000 and the Kiwis in 2008.

And my confession? When I discovered the World Cup was due to be cleaned that summer I figured it was a good time to tell its story. So, with a camera crew in tow, I took it back to the Dowley Gap tip and spent a morning filming the beautiful trophy surrounded by trash overlooking the Yorkshire countryside, while Delaney filled me in on its history. I may have neglected to inform the RFL of the exact circumstances of the shoot, but in the afternoon it was on its way to London for a professional polish so I hoped it could keep one more little secret.

All too often critics diminish and even dismiss the Rugby League World Cup, despite its rich history. And while the international game has genuine issues to address, the sport has come so far since British captain Dave Valentine lifted the trophy for the first time. A new chapter of the game’s history is about to be written as New Zealand attempts to retain the title against challenges from the classy Australians, the formidable English pack, the improving Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, and the less predictable other nations.

And when the winning captain raises the trophy to the Old Trafford crowd’s roar of approval on November 30, we should all raise a glass to those who paved the way for today’s champions. For the likes of Clive Sullivan, who defied tradition, or Stevo and Trevor Delaney, who ensure the stories never die. For Stephen Uttley, a fan who refused a financial reward for returning the trophy, instead choosing to accept a few tickets. For his dog, still unnamed, but not forgotten.

And, above all, for Paul Barriere.

The Frenchman who put rugby league firmly on the international stage.