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Pride may have been on the line for Queensland in their must-win State of Origin game three clash on the Gold Coast.

But returning fullback Kalyn Ponga helped inspire Queensland's 20-18 upset over NSW on Wednesday night by providing something else - belief.

Queensland were written off after losing the first two games of the series by an overall 76-6 points aggregate - both on home soil.

A worse fate awaited at Cbus Super Stadium.

If the Blues clinched their first whitewash in 21 years, Queensland would become the only team in Origin history to have lost all three games in a series on home soil.

The unprecedented off-field drama also had critics questioning their leadership and culture.

Match Highlights: Blues v Maroons

It seemed only something special could spark Queensland. Enter Ponga.

Back from a groin injury that had sidelined him for the series to date, Ponga made up for lost time in Origin III with an inspired display at fullback.

But the seed for Maroons success was planted by Ponga when he first bounded into camp.

"I knew I was coming into a camp that was coming off the back of two big losses," he said.

"I just wanted to come in and bring a lot of excitement and belief. It was a big game. There was a lot of pride on the line.

"I just wanted to get these boys excited about the footy we can play - I think we did that."

DCE says Ponga's energy off the field just as important to Maroons

Ponga then inspired on the field in what he rated his best Origin performance, albeit in just his fourth game for Queensland.

He ran 182m and had one line break along with three tackle busts. But his most influential play was in defence.

In what became a match-winning moment, Ponga raced out to deflect a Tom Trbojevic pass that appeared set for a try-bound James Tedesco as Queensland desperately held on to their 20-18 buffer.

"That is probably my best performance. I felt like I was in the game," Ponga said.

Usually cool, calm and collected, an uncharacteristically animated Ponga's emotions often spilled over in game three as he appeared to vent his frustration after watching the first two games helplessly from his couch.

"Over the last few weeks I watched everything unfold. There has been a lot of talk about different things to do with Queensland over the series," Ponga said.

"There were moments there [in game three] where I did get a little bit excited.
"But it's Origin. If you don't get excited for those moments then you are not really invested in it.

"I loved every moment."

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Ponga was confident there was more fun to be had next year.

"For myself, the boys and Queensland I think it [game three win] now gives us all belief [for 2022]," he said.

"It [a win] was pretty important. But I think that is the Queensland culture and spirit when times are tough.

"When I was growing up watching Queensland they always got behind each other and that [game three] result is what we needed."