Trailing 18-16 with seven minutes to go and down to 12 players with Thomas Flegler in the sin-bin, the Maroons were seemingly out on their feet in front of 48,613 enthralled spectators.
But they refused to give up, and late tries to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Cameron Munster saw them claw their way over the line to take a 1-0 series lead.
The Maroons, who led 10-6 at half-time, were forced to play much of the match without back rower Tom Gilbert, who left the field with a dislocated right shoulder in the 19th minute.
Flegler's sin-bin in the 68th minute for a high shot on Tom Trbojevic - who subsequently failed an HIA - was another challenge, as was losing two-try hero Selwyn Cobbo to injury in the second half, yet once again the Maroons found a way to win.
Maroons workhouse Reuben Cotter - in just his second State of Origin appearance - was a worthy player-of-the-match, leading the tackle count with 48 for the evening.
The two sides will next meet at Brisbane's Lang Park on June 21, with the Maroons now in the box seat to retain the series trophy.
After hostilities threatened to boil over in the early exchanges, it was the Maroons who settled to be the first to get on the scoreboard.
Camped deep in Blues territory, they moved the ball left to find Munster, who placed a well-time grubber kick into the in-goal area.
A flying Tabuai-Fidow raced through to touch down for the first try in the seventh minute, with Holmes adding the conversion.
The Maroons extended their lead to 10-0 only three minutes later via a Cobbo try in the right-hand corner.
The Blues had a chance of opening their account on the scoreboard in the 20th minute when they were on attack down the right edge.
James Tedesco got over the line, but desperate Maroons defence held the Blues skipper up.
A NSW male State of Origin player holds the ball while he is held up over the goal line by Queensland.
The Maroons repeated the dose again, when Blues back rower Tyson Frizell was denied a try by the bunker after appearing to crash over for a four-pointer.
The Blues finally got on the board in the 32nd minute via a converted try to Liam Martin after he finished off some neat lead-up play from his Panthers teammates.
From a midfield play-the-ball, the Blues went left through the hands of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, who timed his offload to find Martin running a brilliant line to steam through a hole on his way to the line.
Cleary converted to cut the Maroons lead back to four points.
The Blues continued to apply the pressure in attack, having dominated possession late in the half, but the Maroons held their opponents out to stay in front at the break.
However, the Maroons relinquished the lead soon after the resumption of play when Api Koroisau pounced on a loose ball 15 metres out from the line.
Cleary added the extras to establish a 12-10 lead.
The Maroons did not bow their heads and as the second half approached the midway mark, they struck back to regain the lead through Cobbo's second try.
A sweeping movement to the right edge led to debutant Reece Walsh landing a cut-out ball into the arms of Cobbo, who beat two defenders to slide in for the try in the corner.
Holmes's conversion had the Maroons 16-12 in front.
The Blues regained the lead in the 67th minute when Cleary converted a Stephen Crichton try and it appeared the momentum was in their favour, especially with Flegler sent to the sin-bin only moments later.
But Tabuai-Fidow and Munster both crossed for tries in the space of three minutes to clinch another memorable triumph for the Maroons.