Queensland star Cameron Munster stole the show as the Maroons spoiled NSW's return to Accor Stadium, upsetting the Blues 16-10 to take a 1-0 series lead.
In front of 80,512 fans at Sydney's Olympic Park, the Maroons, led by Munster, Daly Cherry-Evans and debutant Patrick Carrigan, dominated on their own terms with big moment plays helping Queensland to a special win.
The Blues enjoyed the field possession early to take a 4-0 lead but the injection of Carrigan in the 15th minute swung momentum Queensland's way and from there the visitors came up with points and the defensive efforts late as NSW struggled to take any control in the match.
Carrigan upstaged Broncos teammate Payne Haas and the remainder of his Blues teammates and brought Munster, who was at his usual roaming best, and Cherry-Evans, who scored a decisive try in the second half, into the game.
Ponga steps up to put Holmes over
Munster ignited the contest in the second half as the Maroons took a 6-4 lead into the break with a piece of individual brilliance, where he fended off four defenders mid-field before breaking the line to spark the Maroons in enemy territory.
He then produced a special one-on-one strip on Stephen Crichton with minutes remaining to ensure the Maroons secured the result, their first under new coach Billy Slater and following their 2-1 series loss last year.
Both Munster and Cherry-Evans were well-supported by Ben Hunt and Harry Grant at the ruck while debutant winger Selwyn Cobbo finished with 162 metres and a try assist for the match.
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 1 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
A game-ending leg injury to Xavier Coates had the Maroons on the back foot for the second half but the visitors rallied in defence as NSW began to charge home in the final quarter of the game.
Blues coach Brad Fittler sprung a double change to the line-up with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Liam Martin promoted to start, shifting Blues regulars Cameron Murray and Junior Paulo to the bench.
However, the switch didn't come off for the Blues with Fittler now expected to review his side ahead of a must-win Origin II game in Perth.
- Both sides endured shaky starts with six errors inside the opening 20 minutes with Queensland (four) struggling to hold the ball in greasy conditions.
- NSW centre Jack Wighton brushed off any murmurs of a late switch with Stephen Crichton to open the scoring in the 14th minute.
- Maroons winger Xavier Coates left the field in the 27th minute with a leg injury but the visitors managed to jag a sneaky try on their right edge via Dane Gagai, who crossed for his 12th Origin try via a Selwyn Cobbo kick.
Gagai scores a special Origin try
- Maroons debutant and in-form Cowboys forward Jeremiah Nanai was next to leave the field after his ankle was caught awkwardly under the weight of teammate Cobbo but he returned later in the contest.
- Kotoni Staggs (shoulder) was replaced by Stephen Crichton on the right edge in the 53rd minute.
- Daly Cherry-Evans took advantage of some lazy Blues defence at the scrum to cross for a simple try and extend the lead to 10-4.
- Kalyn Ponga chimed into Queensland's attack and sent Valentine Holmes over in the 53rd minute to all but seal the result at 16-4.
- A late try to Cameron Murray gave the Blues a sniff and despite two line breaks late, the Maroons stopped any raids in a classic.
Luai puts Murray through to set up big finish
- Patrick Carrigan finished the match with 183 running metres and two tackle busts. He was supported by Lindsay Collins (133 metres) while Reuben Cotter (119 metres and 51 tackles) impressed on debut.
- Valentine Holmes showed his class in both attack and defence to churn out 156 metres to go with a try and two goals.
- NSW's wing pairing of Daniel Tupou and Brian To'o ran for over 400 metres combined while James Tedesco (266 metres) was the best in a beaten side.
Holmes: The toughest game I've ever played
Plays of the game
Cometh the hour, cometh Cameron Munster. His one-on-one stripping ability on Stephen Crichton under pressure relieved the Maroons late before he popped up to repel a Blues raid with the clock winding down.
Maroons centre-turned winger Valentine Holmes then pulled off a scintillating defensive play late to deny the Blues a leveller.
A super Origin effort from Holmes
What they said
"It was one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. That’s the best thing about Origin, just how hard the game is. Patrick Carrigan changed the game when he came on and it gave us space to move." - Maroons five-eighth Cameron Munster.
"I thought we didn’t really win the ruck at all, it was only when we fell behind we started playing. There was a lot of slow play-the-balls, they made it pretty tricky. I have to commend them for the job they did. That’s about it," - Blues coach Brad Fittler said.
Players will return to their NRL clubs for the next two weeks before Origin sides for Game Two are selected.
Both sides will turn their attention to Perth's Optus Stadium, where the Blues last beat the Maroons in 2019 to level the series.
Cleary: We didn't respond well enough