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NSW coach Brad Fittler and captain James Tedesco called out Queensland "lying all over us" as the Maroons got down and dirty and ground their way a face-saving 20-18 triumph in Origin III.

The Blues were on the wrong end of an 5-2 penalty count while a hefty 7-6 six-again tally went NSW's way, with Queensland pinged for four ruck infringements by referee Gerard Sutton.

Both Fittler and underfire Maroons counterpart Paul Green labelled the tense contest "a real Origin" after fulltime.

Sutton's influence in the first half especially though raised the ire of fans on social media, legends Andrew Johns and Phil Gould in commentary, as well as Tedesco on the paddock.

Tedesco takes to the stage to lift the shield

Tedesco held court with referee Sutton as he came from the field at half-time after the Blues had grimly defended their try line for the final minutes before the break, during which NSW conceded multiple six-again calls but no points.

Queensland's five penalties all came in the first half while several of their ruck infringements came early in the tackle count, a tactic that has been highlighted at club level throughout 2021 as defensive sides run the gauntlet of slowing down a play-the-ball early in the set.

Fittler, meanwhile, twice called for his star-studded side to "back ourselves a bit more" in live crosses during the game, but in the same breath mused that Queensland's ruck defence gave the Blues little room to do so.

"They're sort of lying all over us, to be fair, like now," Fittler said when Channel Nine crossed to him with 18 minutes to play and Queensland leading 14-12.

"We don't - we're not getting much joy from the ref. We need to play. We're not going to win a grinding game here. We need to play. We need to pass."

The Maroons scored through dummy-half Ben Hunt within minutes of Fittler's comments, opening the game up with a sparkling passage that saw Kalyn Ponga in rare open space before Hunt crossed on the next play.

A Valentine Holmes penalty goal in the fourth minute ultimately proved the difference in a two-point game, with Latrell Mitchell unable to match it with his own mighty strike from 55 metres out in the 78th minute.

Fittler pointed to what he deemed "an obvious knock-on" by Ponga in the lead-up to Hunt's try, and a "push in the back" on Mitchell before he lined up his penalty shot, as critical calls that went Queensland's way.

Koroisau gets a four-pointer on debut for NSW

The series-winning coach stressed the Maroons were the better side and that the Blues lack of cohesion in attack proved their downfall, despite taking issue with the officiating.

"I think a few things went their way and I thought they took advantage of it," Fittler said.

"They were pretty good. There were a few decisions I thought were pretty dodgy, we weren't happy with [them].

"But I thought they were the better side. We still had three sets on their line which we're more disappointed about, that we couldn't score."

Hunt's second-half double, along with improved creative efforts from Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster – in contrast to clunky moments from new Blues pairing Jack Wighton and Mitchell Moses, proved instrumental in a sorely-needed Queensland win.

Mitchell making the tough look easy

Giving the Maroons playmakers a fair crack for the first time in the series though were their big men and a far more urgent defensive line.

In contrast to games one and two, when NSW's sets averaged 14 metres more (46m each set to 31.5 in game one) and six metres more (43.3m each set to 37.2 in game two), Queensland bridged the yardage gap markedly on the Gold Coast.

The Blues 40.3m each set was easily their smallest return of the series, even with James Tedesco (230 running metres) and Brian To'o (190 metres) still punching out impressive numbers.

The contest threatened to bubble over more than once as infringements morphed into niggle and inevitable pushing and shoving, a throwback of sorts to Origins of yore.

Tensions spilled over right on full-time in the form of a scuffle that involved most of the 26 players on the paddock, with Blues prop Junior Paulo the man eventually put on report, joining Josh Papalii (high tackle) in the match review committee's sights.