Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant says candidates to be the code's new chief executive must have a "knowledge and love for the game", admitting that the administration had to properly prepare whoever lands the job so as not to suffer any repeats of Dave Smith's public-relations gaffes.
Grant on Wednesday confirmed a Fairfax Media report that interviews with 10 external applicants had begun, with up to six hopefuls from within the game also in the frame.
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NRL head of football Todd Greenberg, New Zealand Warriors supremo Jim Doyle and Canterbury chief Raelene Castle are among the established league identities in the mix.
The commission is not tied to appointing a figure from within the NRL's senior ranks but Grant said other candidates had to demonstrate a strong affiliation with the code as well as other leadership attributes.
"It needs to be made very clear that one of the entry point criteria is the new CEO will have a knowledge of and a love for the game," Grant said.
"I think to be the CEO of this organisation you actually do a lot with the sport so you've got to be very understanding of sport and understanding of rugby league."
Smith, a Welshman and former Lloyds bank international chief executive, was immediately cast as a stranger to the game when, in a 2012 interview, he could not identify Cameron Smith as the Australian captain.
At the season launch months later he was ridiculed for mistakenly referring to then reigning Dally M player of the year Ben Barba as "Benji Barba".
The outsider tag was one that Smith struggled from there on to brush aside despite the advancements made during his three-year tenure, capped with a $1.8 billion, five-year television deal that was finalised shortly after his exit in November.
Grant said the push to install a successor with a firm understanding of rugby league was not a result of Smith's early PR shortcomings but admitted the former CEO had been let down in the way he had been prepared for the post.
"I think Dave was taken advantage of in his first interview and frankly I don't think we prepared him well," Grant said.
"Dave came to that position having played rugby union - or the oval-balled game - for 40 years. He had a lot of the knowledge and understanding and attributes that qualify a person to be the CEO of this game.
"The fact that he didn't play the code game of rugby league is not that important. He was caught out about the captain of the Australian rugby league side that time and that was just unfortunate.
"There is no doubt that it caused a step backward for him and he tried to recover that and we'd hopefully have a different preparation for our new CEO."
Grant, however, agrees with Smith's stated ambition when he took on the job - to turn the NRL into the leading code in the country.
"I think rugby league needs to and can be the preeminent sport in Australia," Grant said.
"Every indicator says that it can be. And playing off its international opportunities as well just gives it another string to its bow."
A new CEO will not be chosen until after the start of the new season, and could start at League Central as late as August.