New Zealand Rugby is looking to take the plunge into fully professionalising the women's game with the launch of a new 15-a-side competition.
The Herald understands plans are under way to introduce an eight-week competition played over the summer months, which would include a landmark pay deal for the country's elite women's players.
Planning is still in the early stages with one source telling the Herald there is still "a lot of work to be done around the commercial viability of it".
The vision for the new competition is that it will have its own window, running through January and February, in order to give the women's game a chance to breathe on its own rather than be positioned as an "add-on" to the men's product.
It is understood NZ Rugby (NZR) are looking at a launch date of early 2019.
With NZR and the NZ Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) currently negotiating a new memorandum of understanding for the elite women's 15-a-side players, neither party was able to talk in depth on plans for new competition structures.
Cate Sexton, NZ Rugby's head of women's rugby development, said the success of the Black Ferns, who won their fifth World Cup this year, and the record number of women now playing the game is fuelling a push for greater opportunities at an elite level.
"It is all on the table really," she said.
"We're working through that over the next few months with the players association is to ask ourselves 'what is it that we need to enhance the environment for our women in terms of competitions?'"
NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol said any new competition needs to be supported by strong development pathways and greater investment across the entire women's programme.
"We've got a whole lot of existing structures that we need to focus on first," he said.
"There's still only 11 provincial unions [of 26] fielding teams in the Farah Palmer Cup, we've got a sparse international competition for the Black Ferns, and not enough investment and resource put into high performance structures."
Nichol said negotiations with NZR were a lot more complex than just trying to establish a contracting model for the players.
"The word professionalism gets bandied about a lot, but I'm not even sure that people know what it actually is. It's not just about getting paid. It's about high performance systems, access to doctors and phsyios, selection policies, training hours, promotional duties, maternity policies, insurance – it needs to be methodical and process driven."
He added he hoped NZR will back themselves and take the leap.
NZR's play to get the oval ball rolling with a new professional competition comes against a backdrop of a global movement to increase the visibility of women's sport.
Australia has its Aussie Rules competition and the women's Big Bash, which is helping White Ferns stars Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite make a living from the sport, while just last week the NRL unveiled plans for a six-team women's competition in 2018. England has a women's T20 cricket tournament, a female rugby Six Nations and a women's football league.
The lessons NZR have taken from those models is the women's game needs to have an opportunity to stand on its own two feet from a sponsorship, broadcast and fan following point of view.
NZR are increasingly realising the commercial potential in the women's game – if it is positioned in the right way. For a progressive organisation, the new women's competition could be seen as a perfect vehicle to align their brand with.
Free to air coverage is also considered critical to the success of the competition, in order to ensure its potential audience is maximised. It is understood NZR chairman Brent Impey has been in talks with TVNZ to entice it to dip its toes back into live rugby.
This comes as TVNZ and Spark are looking to partner up to deliver live sport coverage and, alongside streaming giant Amazon, threaten to break up Sky's rugby monopoly.