I’ll be honest, there were some tears shed.

The boys had just booked their place in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

They were buzzing.

There was an energy at training that hadn’t been there all year but I wasn’t feeling it.

The night before I’d had my appeal against a four-game suspension rejected and now reality was setting in.

The Catalans Dragons were going to Wembley and I would have to watch from the stands.

I tried to keep a smile on my face and share in the excitement of our team qualifying to play in one of rugby league’s most historic games but deep down I was hurting.

I had a few chats with our coach, Steve McNamara, about what I was going through but I didn’t need to say too much; he could see the emotion in my face.

He told me to go away with the family for a week and forget about rugby league completely.

Greg Bird exclusive insight 2

But here we are, the week of the Challenge Cup Final, Catalans v Warrington, planeloads of people flying in from France, and I’ll have to sit in the coaches’ box and watch.

I was 18 years old and playing my first season in first grade when Cronulla were beaten 16-10 by the Warriors in the 2002 Preliminary Final.

At that age you don’t realise how rare these opportunities are. It’s disappointing to get that close but at 18 years of age you assume there will be another chance to play in a grand final just around the corner.

Seventeen years later and the club I play for has qualified for a grand final and I’m not allowed to play.

At this stage of my career, it’s been really hard for me to come to terms with.

Greg Bird exclusive insight 2

I remember when we played in the 2010 Preliminary Final at the Titans and talking to Matty Rogers about how rare these chances are. He was in his third year of first grade when the Sharks made the Super League Grand Final in 1997 and here he was in his last year in the NRL trying to reach his second.

These are the boys you train alongside every day, who you spend 11 months of the year trying to build something with and this Saturday I can’t be there for them.

I’m a part of this team but unless you’re out on the field on grand final day, winning just doesn’t feel the same.

Even watching the semi-final was hard. The boys played amazingly well to knock off St Helens – who have hardly been beaten all year – but every time we scored a try the realisation hit me that they’d be going to Wembley without me.

I love this club too much to not wish them anything but a win on Saturday but there’s no question there will be a mixture of emotions for me personally, whether we win or lose.

I don’t expect people to feel sorry for me – that’s the last thing I’d want.

Greg Bird exclusive insight 2

I’ve been suspended plenty of times in the past, perhaps more than anyone else in NRL history, but that’s the risk you take when you walk the thin line that separates aggression from illegality.

You don’t want to play unfairly, you just want to play as hard as you can but as more rules and interpretations come into the game that line starts to get very crooked.

You can have one of the best games you’ve ever played and the next week do the same thing and give away five penalties because of the way a different referee sees it.

In-built aggression is not something that can be coached and it is incredibly hard to adapt your game when the line of what is and isn’t allowed is constantly moving.

I missed an entire Origin Series in 2015 because of a lifting tackle in a Test match but the strange part of this latest one is that I didn’t even know that this particular rule even existed.

In almost every tackle in the NRL and Super League you will see defenders wrapping their legs around those of the attacker in order to bring them down to the ground.

In this case, I wrapped both legs around Wigan forward Gabe Hamlin and used my bodyweight to bring him to ground.

I was charged with a new rule – dangerous contact – that only came in to Super League last year and given the highest possible grading, D.

Plenty of people I’ve spoken to since didn’t even think it was a penalty.

We appealed the severity of the grading using an example of an almost identical tackle from earlier in the year that was graded a ‘B’ but were told that one wasn’t graded highly enough and that the suspension would stand.

The range of suspension I could receive was between 3-5 weeks and I was given four, making me ineligible to play in the Challenge Cup Final should we qualify.

I understand the concern around player welfare and I firmly believe that no player deliberately tries to hurt an opposition player but the combative nature of our game is what separated it from so many other sports.

We pride ourselves on playing and supporting the toughest game on the planet and more so as a fan than a player, I want to see that fabric of rugby league protected while providing an environment to play in that is as safe as possible at every level.

Greg Bird exclusive insight 3

To understand what Saturday night means to the Catalans Dragons you need only go back 12 months to the Million Pound Game against Leigh.

I’ve played in World Cup finals and Origin deciders but the pressure of this game was next level. This was people’s livelihoods on the line and it was undoubtedly the most stressful game I’ve ever played.

I knocked back a couple of offers to stay in the NRL to sign with Catalans at the end of 2016 yet here we were only a year into a three-year playing deal facing the very real prospect of being out of a job.

The Million Pound Game decides the final spot in Super League for the following year. Win and you get the 1 million pound grant money; lose and all contracts immediately become null and void.

Given I was on one of the bigger contracts at the club I was under no illusions that I’d probably be one of the first to go.

And I wasn’t the only one. Guys like Luke Walsh and Sam Moa had come over here and were busting their arses every week to win matches but it just wasn’t happening.

Even though I was confident that we could get the win I was talking to my manager every second day making sure he was speaking to clubs in the very real chance that we’d be relegated to the Championship.

I wasn’t only worrying about how to provide for my family in the next three or four years but what next year was going to hold.

In the end we played one of the best games we’d played all year to keep our spot in Super League.

The Catalans people are a very proud people.

Greg Bird, Catalans Dragons (Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)

They love their area and they love their team. Even people that don’t necessarily follow rugby league will get behind a team that is representing Catalans at Wembley.

When we arrived home at midnight the night of the Million Pound Game there were hundreds and hundreds of fans waiting to greet the team at the airport, waving flags and banners and going crazy.

It was an incredible spectacle really considering we were a team that had finished the regular season second last.

Given this is only the second time a Catalans team has qualified for a Challenge Cup Final it will be that kind of excitement and emotion again this weekend.

There have been more and more fans at training every day as we have progressed through the tournament and there are three charter planes heading to London full of Dragons fans.

The Challenge Cup Final in some ways is even bigger than the Super League Grand Final.

It won’t be just the fans of the two teams at Wembley; it will be full of rugby league supporters who love the history and romance of the Challenge Cup.

We started the season horribly and only just scraped into the Super 8s at the end of the year but here we are on one of the biggest stages our sport has to offer with a chance to win this club’s very first trophy.

It’s an incredible occasion.

I’m just gutted that I won’t have the chance to run out with the boys and share it with them.