EXCLUSIVE: The NRL has begun interviews with 10 external applicants for the role of chief executive and identified up to half a dozen potential candidates from within the game in the hope of announcing the new boss in April.
Fairfax Media can reveal the NRL is in the process of meeting with all 10 external applicants, with the aim of whittling down the number to a shortlist of two or three by mid February. Interviews with the rugby league-linked candidates will follow and will also be reduced to similar numbers to provide the NRL with a final list of four to six applicants to choose from at the end of next month.
The NRL is bracing itself for the possibility the new chief executive may not start until August, depending on the length of notice they will need to provide their current employer.
While the NRL's quest to find Dave Smith's successor was global, Fairfax Media understands all 10 remaining external applicants are based in Australia.
It is understood Canterbury Bulldogs chief executive Raelene Castle, the former boss of Netball New Zealand who joined the Bulldogs as Todd Greenberg's successor in 2013, is one of the names on the internal shortlist.
Greenberg, who is currently the NRL head of football, is also on the list. Panthers group chief executive Warren Wilson has been heavily linked to the role, but there is a strong push from within club land for Warriors boss Jim Doyle to return to the NRL.
Doyle has the backing of the clubs as well as experience at Rugby League Central having previously worked as Smith's right hand man before joining the Warriors last year.
Smith, who took over from David Gallop despite an obvious lack of rugby league knowledge, stood down from the chief executive role in October last year just three years into a five-year deal as the NRL's chief executive. Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant, who heads the search for the game's new leader, is filling in as interim chief executive.
Since Smith's departure following his controversial decision not to include Fox Sports in negotiations while dealing with Channel Nine, the NRL has completed its television broadcast rights deal.
The five-year deal, which expires in 2022, is worth over $1.8billion, which is likely to go close to $2b once the NRL finalises the sale of international TV and radio rights.