Interim NRL chief executive John Grant says it will be impossible to fill the position permanently before the new season begins and it could be several months before the successful candidate starts.
The position has been vacant since Dave Smith stepped down last October.
The NRL have established separate lists of applicants from inside and outside the game.
Grant said it would be a case of compiling a short list of between four and six.
“Realistically it’s hard to see how we get to that short list before the end of February and then the process of getting from that to a final candidate will take at least a month,” Grant said on Wednesday.
“So you are looking at March, maybe even a little bit after that.
“Depending on the successful candidate there will be notice periods potentially if they are from outside the game, or even from outside the NRL.
“So it could be another two to three months after that and this is just the way that it is.
“This is the process of getting the best candidate, but doing it in a really thorough way.
“We’ve not chosen to jump to decisions and this is a big one, so we’ve got to get it right.”
Grant made it clear passion for rugby league was a major requirement.
“We’ve got to set criteria and one of those is to have a love for and understanding of the game of rugby league; that’s really important,” Grant said.
“It’s a tough job and it’s a job while Dave did a lot of the groundwork in terms of starting the process of change, that’s a continuing process.
“In order to do that you’ve got to be an experienced CEO.”
Grant declined to identify any of the applicants but said he was delighted with the quality of people who had stepped forward in addition to those the NRL had approached about the position.
“There’s been some really really good people step forward both inside and outside the game,” Grant said.
Like Smith, Grant insisted rugby league could establish itself as the premier sport in Australia.
“I think rugby league needs to, and can, be the pre-eminent sport in Australia and every indicator says that it can be,” Grant said.
“Playing off its international opportunities as well, just gives it another string to it’s bow.
“We see NRL as an opportunity to launch rugby league more strongly into the world game.
“We’ve got 40 nations, playing rugby league in organised competitions around the world now.”