The Origin series will now go to a decider at Suncorp Stadium
Queensland maintained its spot on the moral high ground despite one hand slipping from the State of Origin shield with NSW's 16-12 win in the second match at ANZ Stadium.
The Maroons were typically courageous, but eventually fell just short despite the now traditional late surge, having overcome a string of questionable refereeing decisions and a taxing injury toll.
The Origin series will now go to a decider at Suncorp Stadium on July 4 to see whether the Maroons can clinch their seventh successive Origin title.
But they are most likely going to have to do it with a revamped line-up, with serious injuries to Billy Slater (possible posterior cruciate tear) and Corey Parker (lacerated leg) seemingly unlikely to be fit for the third game.
Slater will be sweating on scans to discover the full extent of the damage to his knee, while Parker has already undergone surgery to repair the enormous gash in his leg suffered just moments into the second half.
Brent Tate and Justin Hodges were others affected by injuries in a brutal match fought out on front of more than 83,000 fans.
As if those obstacles weren't enough, the Maroons also missed the rub of the green with the majority of the refereeing decisions – with the 50-50 calls swinging in the Blues' favour, and a number of contentious calls costing Queensland precious momentum.
Cooper Cronk was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 42nd minute, but few - including Queensland coach Mal Meninga - argued that the stint on the sidelines wasn't justified, nor was Cronk's decision to hold back Todd Carney to prevent a try.
In Cronk's absence, the Blues took control of the game, and Queensland spent the rest of the game trying to claw back a lead they had held through an opportunistic try to Ben Hannant just on halftime.
But it was the refereeing decisions such as the curious decision to rule a Queensland knock-on when Michael Jennings clearly knocked the ball from Tate's hands over the tryline, and another where the referees missed a blatant off-side when Josh Morris picked up the scraps of a dropped ball that had Queensland fans seething.
Still, unlike the Blues in Origin I, there were no histrionics from the Queensland camp.
While the Blues conducted a very public war of words in a refereeing witch-hunt after their loss in Melbourne that resulted in the extraordinary scenes of referees boss Bill Harrigan not only having to explain the rules to the Blues, but then fight to save his job Maroons coach Mal Meninga vowed his men would just concentrate on playing better.
``I'm not going to criticise the referees. We understand there is a fair bit of honesty in the group,'' Mal told a packed post-game media conference. ``As a result of our execution that is one of the reasons why we weren't successful tonight.
``We're not going to blame the referees.
``I will review it with the coaching staff and have a look at some of the decisions that were made during the night and hopefully get a fair hearing with Mr Harrigan and Mr (Stuart) Raper at some stage down the track.
``I was very proud of our effort. Obviously 12 men cost us dearly and losing Corey Parker early in the second half as well had a bearing.''
Maroons skipper Cameron Smith said uncharacteristic handling errors had cruelled his team's chances of a come-from-behind victory.
``Tonight we came up with some simple errors at crucial times and that really cost us,'' Smith said. ``NSW were good enough to put points on the board.
``We were always confident, even with five or six minutes to go with a scrum feed we were confident of winning.``That's one-all now and we get to go back to Queensland for the decider.''