In any other walk of life, an ornament as old, as beautiful and spectacular as the Challenge Cup would have been kept in a museum behind thick glass and quite possibly an armed guard...

But this is sport, and trophies are there for lifting above your head, passing from hand to hand and for parading before your fans.

Year after year the Rugby League Challenge Cup takes a battering from those lucky enough to get their hands on it, and yet every August it still comes back looking as good as new. 

That's thanks to The Birmingham based trophy maker Thomas Fattorini Ltd, who clean and repair the trophy every year before it is presented.

"The trophy is sterling silver, so it tarnishes naturally," explains the company's Managing Director, Tom Fattorini. "We have to repolish it, and knock out the dings and dents and scratches which it picks up."

The trophy recently paid one of its regular visits to Fattorinis to ensure it is in perfect condition for the presentation this afternoon. 

"It's all done by hand," says Tom. "The little dents are knocked out and repolished, the scratches and tarnishes are removed, using lots of different methods, from small felt bobs to more complex methods, it's a real project."

But then the winning teams do have a habit of being a bit clumsy with the cup. It's amazing how often they damage this most precious of prizes.

"A lot of the work we do involves getting rid of the problems caused by people dropping it and messing about with it in the dressing room and on the team bus. "In the past people have got carried away, they've worn it on heads, thrown it around the team bus, put champagne in it - which is acidic, of course, so it isn't exactly good for it - and nobody can stop them because they've won the thing, after all!"

Thankfully Fattorini's have seen it all over the 182 years they've been in business. 

"With some trophies we've had handles coming off, and it's even survived being thrown off a team bus before. It's luck of the draw if that happens - if it lands on the right place it may end up with very little damage, and the surface won't buckle. It's like a car - sometimes you'll get a dent from the slightest touch, and other times you bump it pretty hard and you can't even tell."

Tom Fattorini is part of the sixth generation of the same Fattorini family who made the original Challenge Cup in 1897, for the princely sum of £60 (equivalent to around £16,000 at today's prices).

"Fattorini's weren't given any particular commission, just told to come up with something prestigious," says Tony Collins, professor of social history of sport at Leeds Metropolitan University. They did a magnificent job, though, and the original Rugby League Challenge Cup lasted 104 years before in 2001 it was finally deemed too fragile to continue being presented.

It had lost its fluted top and the players on each handle had been damaged. The silver was also wearing thin and there was little space left for new winners' names to be engraved on it. It is now kept in a safe at the RFL's headquarters at Red Hall, Leeds, and the trophy used is an exact reproduction, made with a strengthened neck, and the winners' name shields have been resized so the 111 winners (to date) can all fit on it!

There are also now a few rules in place which help to preserve the new trophy. If taken out of a secure cabinet, it always has to be in the presence of someone. Indeed, someone has to sleep in the same room if it's out overnight. And if it goes on a car journey, there have to be two people in the car so it's never left unattended.

When the trophy travelled to France for some Catalans publicity photos in 2007, it even had its own seat on the plane. Surely they should have upgraded it to first class? So the days of throwing it out of team coaches are thankfully long gone. But whatever happens to one of British sport's most famous trophies, it'll still be back at Fattorini's next year for some more tender loving care.