THE NRL predicts it is just "three to four years" away from unveiling a fully professional, elite women's competition capable of challenging the AFLW.
The governing body took a significant step towards the ambition on Wednesday when it outlined a raft of new initiatives for female participants, most notably the establishment of an elite six-team tournament for 2018.
NRL clubs will be given details of the tender process before Christmas and the licences will be awarded before the men's season kicks off in March.
The success of the AFLW, the Women's Big Bash League and the W-League has prompted rugby league officials to provide elite pathways for its female participants, the fastest-growing sector of the game.
The initiatives include a stand-alone State of Origin match, a talent combine, the central contracting of 40 Jillaroos players and the staging of Test matches involving Australia in the Pacific and New Zealand.
They are viewed as the first steps to the creation of a professional women's league that mirrors the NRL competition.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant expected that to occur "some time within the next broadcasting cycle", which begins next season and concludes in 2022.
"I think it will be three to four years," Grant told Fairfax Media.
"It will be in this current cycle of broadcast – I'd be surprised if we don't get to that full, strong competition.
"What we need to do [first] is put good football on each week, which means you need a playing group and numbers coming through pathways.
"We have very good participation in the lower-age levels and then it thins out when you get into the open areas. We need a generation of the younger girls coming through to get to the open grade to get to that.
"When we do, we will have a very professional week in, week out competition like we have with the NRL."
Next year's women's competition is expected to run from August to September, to be staged as double-headers in the lead-up to and during NRL finals matches.
Players will be paid match fees, ending the days when elite women had to pay for the privilege of representing their clubs or country.
The announcement was welcomed by some of the biggest names in the women's game.
Jillaroos skipper Ruan Sims, a Gerringong product, who led the side to a memorable World Cup victory over New Zealand, said there was a time she was recognised only as being the sibling of footballing stars Ashton, Korbin and Tariq.
However, Sims said the exposure that came with the World Cup win had made the Jillaroos stars in their own right.
"We've actually changed the discussion points – we are no longer curtain-raisers, we are double-headers with the men," Sims said.
"We're on the same pedestal as the boys.
“That's a big step forward in the quality of the sport.
"Obviously today's announcements show there is a genuine pathway from the juniors to the Jillaroos.
“That never existed before, we never had a framework in place where a six-year-old could say, 'I want to be a Jillaroo'.
"This is the first time ever and why it's so exciting."
The NRL wasn't going to begin the six-team competition until 2020, but the spike in interest – coupled with a 32 per cent rise in participation rates in 2017 – prompted a fast-tracking of the plans.
"In other words, we are taking the women's game to a new level," NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said.
"For the first time, there will be a dedicated pathway for our women to follow – from grassroots junior league, to state competitions and on to premiership matches and representative Origin and Test match opportunities.
"The women's game has become an attraction in its own right and anyone who has seen the Jillaroos in action cannot help but be impressed by the skills and athleticism on display.
"The NRL is determined to provide the right channels for women to follow and play rugby league – and today is a great starting point for that program."