THE Greek god Hercules was famed for his all-round strength and chiselled physique.

So it's fitting that recent Maori All Blacks debutant Marcel Renata - a native of Awanui - has been dubbed the Maori Hercules.

The physically abrasive prop, sharp on attack and dynamic around the park, is an imposing figure for the Auckland University premiers on a weekly basis and it appears his hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.

"It's just his make-up, his build really. He's always been a big boy," Auckland University head coach Dean Bickerton said of the tighthead prop's nickname.

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Renata was driven from the get-go, the coach said, and had helped his University team to the Auckland premier rugby playoffs this year. He added Renata's University teammates were behind him in his international debut, despite losing one of their key players.

"[He's] always been rugby focused [and] just wanting to get bigger really; just a great kid, always had goals for himself and great expectations."

Renata was watched by Maori All Blacks coaches Colin Cooper and Tabai Matson recently and his selection is a sigh of relief amid the current shortage of quality props in New Zealand.

The Maori All Blacks team to play the New Zealand Barbarians in Auckland tonight features four other debutants, too, including Taranaki's Sean Wainui in the starting line-up along with Joe Edwards, Brad Weber and Codey Rei in the reserves.

Charlie Ngatai will again captain the side after the team's win in Suva at the weekend.

Cooper said he was pleased with how the team had recovered from their trip to Fiji and was confident of another committed performance.

"The team showed true determination and resolve in a challenging contest in Fiji and I am sure they will take that commitment into the match against a strong Baabaas side.

"I would love to think we can finish our campaign on a high note and continue the team's incredible record in a rare performance on home soil.

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"However, we won't take anything for granted as we are up against a very strong team."

The Maori All Blacks play the New Zealand Barbarians tonight, 7.35pm at Auckland's Eden Park.