Rugby League: Maranta hanging on to investment

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Rumours of an attempted buy-out by Richard Branson, the Virgin entrepreneur, have created uncertainty at London's Super League club. The Broncos' owner fears that speculation may scupper any future deal.

Mystery surrounds claims that Richard Branson and Virgin are poised to take over the London Broncos. The club's chairman and dominant shareholder, Barry Maranta, said yesterday that he knew nothing of any impending change of ownership.

"I've got a couple of million pounds invested in the London Broncos," Maranta said. "I'm not a big enough idiot to walk away from that sort of investment. It's true that we are talking to Richard Branson and we would love him to have a bigger share, but a take-over is usually hostile and there is nothing of that nature on the cards."

Branson took out a 15 per cent share in the club earlier in the season and was reported to have bought out Maranta to become the major shareholder, a deal that was romoured to be announced tomorrow.

The Broncos, however, were adamant yesterday that the conference had been called to unveil the players who have re-signed for next season. If London had not lost 58-16 to Sheffield on Sunday, it would also have been used to publicise their semi-final this weekend.

It was, however, rapidly cancelled yesterday morning, leaving two contradictory versions of the club's future hanging in the air. The likely outcome remains that Branson will eventually take a controlling interest, although Maranta said: "I hope the press [coverage] over this will not turn him off."

The St Helens utility player, Andy Northey, will sign a full-time contract to play rugby union for Northampton today, subject to a medical. Northey joined Saints from Waterloo as a centre in 1994, but has been used as an extra forward over the past two seasons.

Another St Helens forward, Ian Pickavance, has turned down the chance to join Castleford, but Saints are still pursuing their interest in several potential acquisitions, including Huddersfield's Craig Weston and the Oldham pair, Paul Davidson and Brett Goldspink.

"We are restricted by the salary cap that comes in next season, as well as by the limit of 25 players," Saints' chief executive, David Howes, said. Saints' Premiership semi-final against Castleford will be the televised match on Friday.

John Schuster is on his way back to New Zealand because Halifax can no longer afford his pounds 70,000 a season contract.