Pretension is the pre-added axial tensile force on fully grouted bolt systems, which include rock bolts and cable bolts. Although a series of studies via lab testing and analytical modelling proved the importance of pretension in cable bolts, there is no systematic analysis to guide the optimal pretension values to be applied on cable bolts in different engineering geological conditions. Complicated geological conditions, such as anisotropic in-situ stress, bedding plane detachment and country rock deformation, cannot be fully represented in the lab or analytical work. In addition, field scale numerical models to investigate cable bolt performance and its interaction with various geological conditions are rare. This paper analyses the effect of pretension on the performance of cable bolts in underground coal mines via field scale numerical models, with considering different geological conditions (in-situ stress, bedding plane stiffness and rock mass properties). Numerical models were developed based on a case study mine in Australia with challenging ground conditions. The in-situ stress, properties of claystone and bedding planes are considered critical variables to be analysed. The results show higher pretension contributes to higher force along the cable bolt. Neutral points, where shear force in grout materials is zero, are used to describe the pretension-induced stress redistribution on cable bolts. Pretension also has a positive effect on roof and bedding plane management, resulting in a more stable roof condition. In addition, high pretension and high in-situ stress are more likely to result in cable-grout (CG) interface failure since the relative vertical displacement difference between cable bolts and the surrounding rock mass is higher. Once CG interface failure is generated, the pretension effect turns out to be negative, leading to severe roof sagging and bedding plane aperture. This paper provides a guide to the application of pretension in coal mining.